Modernity and the Individual: An Indian Viewpoint
One can not understand
tradition without understanding modernity (and of course the other
way round) and one cannot understand tradition and modernity together
without asking some basic questions about human life and the various
forms it takes.
TRADITION is so much a part of human life that
in order to understand what tradition is all about one simply has
to understand what human life is like.
A human being is a living
being like any other kind of living being, and human life is
thus part and parcel of life on earth. (This is something that artists,
naturalists, and mothers never lose sight of.)
As a living being, a human being is in constant interaction
with the rest of the world – especially the rest of the world to which
living beings have access, that is to say, the interaction is harmonious
to the extent that it is conductive to the sustenance of life, the
environment of that human being.
Living just consists in this interaction, which maintains a
certain harmony between the living being and its environment. This interaction is no mere replacement of body tissue and replenishment
of body energy, no mere exchange of matter, energy, and information.
)’Information’ here stands
for a certain patterning or sharable arrangement – as with shadows
cast or footprints left by an animal or with shapes or sounds picked
up by its retina or cochlea). Rather,
this interaction is action and reaction in either direction.
Whenever and wherever the interaction diminishes or ceases,
life diminishes or ceases, life diminishes or ceases. If life ceases, this island of some orderly arrangement within an
ocean of comparative disorder merges with that ocean. Absence of harmony between the living being and its environment
spells danger or even failure for the particular living being, even
for the kind it belongs to, or for the population it belongs to. (’Population’ here stands for all the plants
and animals inhabiting a given locality in a given period in symbiotic
or competing or conflicting arrangement.)
The harmony can be achieved either by modifying the living
being or by modifying the environment.
The interaction achieves this harmony through
interaction between the living being and the environment. The interaction consists of the following:
The living being deals with the environment in overt manipulation
and coping and in covert monitoring and cognition. Likewise, with the kind and the population
the living being belongs to. Thus
it is that life actively modifies the environment and stands passively
modified by it and so adjusted to it.
The environment affects the living being in covertly offering opportunity
or resistance and overtly offering support or adversity. Likewise, with the kind and the population
the living being belongs to. Thus
it is that environment is supportive or neutral or hostile.
Harmonious interaction spells welfare and
success. Short of major catastrophes,
life goes on in an even tenor: living beings adjust and the environment
supports. The earth proves
to be a home. The environment
typically includes other living beings; typically, the ones belonging
to the same kind or to the same population have a special status for
the interacting living being. Thus,
any interaction with the other living being often leads to learning
from that living being.
a human being is a living being unlike any other kind of living
being. (This is something that preachers, humanists,
and dreamers never tire of reminding us of.) To begin with, humans are mammals and so they
are ‘higher’ animals with sexual and viviparous reproduction and physical
play and intimacy with the mate and with dependent sucklings. Active manipulation in response amounts here
to behavior (cheṣhṭita) and passive monitoring
in response amounts to experience (anubhava). Underlying their
behaviour and experience are certain inner compulsions, namely, drives
or abilities along with their modification through learning by oneself
and from somebody. The external
compulsions from the environment are often modified by livings through
selection (as of a locality with better water supply) and reshaping
(as a beaver’s dam).
is more, humans are no ordinary mammals.
They aspire to thrive in all sorts of environment: what is
more, like rats or sparrows or cockroaches, they appear to have done
so in spite of being weaklings when nature puts on a cruel face, their
hereditary equipment falling far too short.
Just how do human beings manage this feat? They are islands
of more intricate and so more delicate order, which is both a compensation
and a liability.
one of a human develops the capacities for bearing/begetting, for
mating, and for parenting in that order and at intervals, which is
awkward. A human is born unfinished, so to say: there
are few detailed innate programmes (comparable to nest-building),
rather more of broad directions, that need to be activated and shaped
by appropriate environmental condition (consider how clumsy human
parenting can be). The mating urge is round the year; the procreativity
depends not on the solar cycle but the lunar cycle. The day of this daytime mammal is not exhausted
in feeding, resting, saving of the skin, and mating (ahāra-nidrā-bhaya-maithunam-ca) with time enough on
hand to play and to explore the outer and the inner world.
Tradition, Modernity and the Individual: An Indian Viewpoint
There is an inner world and that includes the inner
or covert aspect of the outer world.
How is this possible? Behavior in human beings presupposes
a certain readiness to manipulate, that is, alertness (avadh̉ūna).
There is room not only for the sense of freewill (svādhīnatā)
in acting or letting be, acting this way or that (khartun-akartum-anyathākartum). Experience in human beings presupposes a certain
readiness to monitor, that is, awareness or consciousness (cetanā/vijñāna). There is room not only for the here and now
but also for the there and then, even for what is nowhere and may
never be, that is, for the fictive or virtual (aupacārika). Visual imaging and outer/inner speech assist.
There is a covert outer world: play enters into mating and
makes for play-acting and make-believe, for example.
Behavior often turns into result-oriented coping activity (karman)
and experience often turns into problem-oriented thought (chintā).
Harmonious interaction between humans and their environment
is promoted not only through short-term adjustment to and support
from the environment but also through long-term restructuring of the
environment (consumer goods and producer goods) and of humankind.
The restructuring of humans consists in the forming of personalities,
societies, and cultures. The inner compulsions (drives and abilities)
are turned by learning conditions into inclinations and capacities
and these add up to a personality.
Dependence of the young leads to adult intimacy and to interdependence. The concurrent socialization and individualization
of the child and the adult precipitates into a society. Coping with life and cognizing of the world
interact into a certain nurturing through experience and conditioning
through actions of personality and of society.
That constitutes a culture.
(Higher subhuman mammals may sometimes evince rudimentary versions
of personality, society, and culture.)
the intricacy and consequent delicacy of the fabric of human life,
humans end up making and conceding claims that are often quite contrary
to each other and this makes life even more intricate! (No wonder
that Kant threw up his hands in horror at the crooked timber that
humanity is made of.) We are concerned here with two of these antinomies,
because they allow tradition to step in, take over, and give succour
to these weaklings, ‘higher’ weaklings to be sure. These two are the antinomy of history and the
antinomy of self-identity. Let
it be clear that the hallmark of any true antinomy is that neither
of the paired truths has much meaning without the other so that the
perplexity may be relieved but can never be resolved.
of history helps human beings to deal with the arrow of time – which
ensures that not all the king’s men can put humpty-dumpty together
again. (‘Dealing with’ covers both manipulating and
monitoring, coping with and cognizing.)
The paired truths can be stated quite simply as follows:
There is never any wiping of the slate: man’s present becomes past
and stays with him as memory and as the situation at hand. At the same time –.
There is no turning back: man’s future becomes present and ever wipes
the slate clean of what were earlier certain possibilities or near-certainties.
perception yields the sense of an uninterrupted series of continuity:
the same old set-up leaves you comforted or despairing by turns. The second perception yields the sense of constant
shift or open-endedness: the possibility of novelty leaves you hopeful
or uncomfortable by turns. In
short, man has a sense of abiding inheritance and unending change
whether as a person or as a member of society.
All ages qualify as ages of transition, whether in biography
or in history. Human beings have a story to tell and a story
to live out. They have to
accept the seal of time and the arrow of time.
of self-identity helps human beings to deal with the thorn of self-consciousness
– which is consciousness turning on itself.
(The term ‘self-consciousness’ is not as obvious as it looks
– it covers both being conscious of being conscious of something out
there or some act on one’s part – that is, reflexive consciousness,
and being conscious of referring events to one’s self – that is, inward
consciousness – In the present context we are dealing with inward
consciousness.) The paired
truths of this antinomy are as follows:
There is pride in the desire to find oneself, to preserve, accentuate,
even celebrate our separation and our distinction from others: the
smallest of us is important (‘always as an end, never merely as a
means’, says Kant; ‘may whoever whatever deeply wants get it’, says
the same time –
There is modesty in the deśire to lose oneself, to merge oneself
in the life of the company one keeps and to recognize one’s resemblance
to others: the greatest of us is unimportant (‘O! why was I born with
a different face? / Why was I not born like the rest of the race?’
says Blake in some anguish).
The first perception yields the sense of every man being
an island: man’s ability to tell one face from another rand inability
to have access to another’s consciousness reinforces this perception. Man has a tragic sense of proud isolation or
a mystical bliss of kaivalya extinguishing the other. The second perception yields the sense of no
man being an island: man’s ability to recognize resemblances, shallow
or deep, with oneself and drive to seek out the company of those that
resemble oneself. Man has a comic sense of unassuming conviviality
or a mystical bliss of nirvā¸a extinguishing the self.
The two antinomies
together elicit from human beings the hide-and-seek of tradition and
modernity. Today’s tradition
was modernity the day before yesterday, and today’s modernity will
be tradition the day after tomorrow.
Tradition and modernity are relative to each other: they constitute
an opposition and not a true antinomy.
Clinging to tradition finds solace in the seal of time and
feeds on the fear of freewill. Hankering for modernity finds solace in the
arrow of time and feeds on the fear of orderliness.
The word traditio
in Latin means ‘giving across’, that is, handing over, delivering,
or even betraying (the word treason being a derivative). By emphasizing continuity, tradition supports
a person and helps him to lose himself, and in so doing it could betray
him or prevent him from finding himself by making a break with the
past. Tradition tends to be
opposed to innovation or experiment and often lapses into letting
things take their course.
The word paraṁparā in Sanskrit means, one following the other
from ear to ear, from hand to hand, from teacher to disciple and so
forth. The Indian tradition is like a palimpsest and
has unresolved tensions built into itself.
Depending on the context, paraṁparā is opposed as ra·hi to shāstra
(conscious discipline), as mārga to deshya (regional or
local), or as sanā¶ana to adhunika/navya (recent/new). The word smriti/smara¸a is sometimes a close synonym, given its primary
meaning of ‘remembering or recalling’.
Being a palimpsest the Indian tradition never really bothers
to wipe out the older mode before accepting the new mode.
The Arabic words
silsilah (chain, series), rasm (marked out manner), or tariqah
(manner) and the Persian word dastur (rule handed down) have varying
underlying metaphors for conveying the notion of tradition. Arabic hādith (recoilection) respembles Sanskrit sm¤tī in being second to Qur’ān/
But then one often
uses the pairing of tradition and modernity not in the original relative
sense in which they play hide-and-seek but in an imposed absolute
sense. One distinguishes between traditional societies
(of Ancient or Medieval India or Europe and their present-day survivals,
for example) and modern societies (of Modern Europe or India and their
forerunners, for example). In
so doing one agrees to overlook certain palpable or even deep-seated
differences between India and Europe (even in comparable phases, for
example), or to overlook the chronological mismatch (modern India
emerging much later than modern Europe, for example).
In recognizing survivals from traditional society there is
at least historical continuity to fall back upon as with the ceremonial
of British royalty or with the endogamy and group loyalty in the Hindu
caste system or the gender masculinism. But how does one recognize anticipations of
modernity or throwbacks to tradition? Indeed if ‘recognize’ is at
all the right word; perhaps ‘ascribe’ is the word to use in attributing
modern sentiments to Saint Francis of Assisi or Kabir or interpreting
as premature modernizing the transition from the Athens of Pericles
to the Athens of Alcibiades (which so disturbed the conservative Socrates)
or the liberalizing impact on the Brahmanical society of the culture
of Buddhist and other shrama,as (which led to
a Brahmanical counter-reformation).
Likewise, when one recognizes throwbacks in attributing traditional
sentiments to Charles de Gaulle or interpreting Marxism as a latter-day
religion with affinities to Judaism and Christianity. In all such ascribing or, again, in recognizing a certain homogeneity
between pre-modern Europe and pre-modern/India or between modern Europe
and India, one chooses to focus on large abstractions. One is not thinking of tradition and modernity
in a relative sense so much as of Tradition and Modernity (with capital
T or M) in an absolute sense as proper names for the two opposed slants
that emerged in the course of human history.
How does one
understand these two abstractions then? Any historically attested
feature or cluster of feature or cluster of features of personality,
society, or culture are seen as indices of whole ways of coping with
life and whole ways of cognizing the world – indices of whole lifestyles
and whole worldviews, so to say.
What is more, one is recognizing a major worldwide shift, a
watershed so to say, give or take a couple of centuries, in the course
of the major world civilizations of history such as the European or
the Indian. In thinking of
Tradition and Modernity in this absolute sense as a fact of the history
of humankind, one is thinking of two whole lifestyles and correspondingly
two whole worldviews. Spelling
out a lifestyle or a worldview is of course a philosophical activity. Now it will have been noticed that we have
steadily moved from manipulating/monitoring through behavior/experience
and activity/thought and coping with life/cognizing of the world finally
on to lifestyle/world-view. Earlier
we have seen that any coping with life affects and conditions cognizing
of the world and that any cognizing of the world affects and conditions
coping with life. It is this
interaction between coping and cognizing that leads to the emergence
of lifestyles and world-views, that is to say, that formation of whole
schemata out of what Lévi-Strauss would call the bricolage of
stray rules of thumb. (Thus,
beginning with stray, simple practical rules like ‘Feed a cold and
starve a fever’ or simple cognitive rules like ‘Bleeding is profuse
when it is full moon or new moon’, one ends up with whole philosophies
of health and healing.)
In what follows,
we spell out the schemata of Tradition and Modernity. We shall begin with the world-views and move
on to lifestyles and under each lifestyle we shall take up personality
and society before we end up with culture and material culture. (By ’material culture’ we mean the restructuring
of the environment.) We hope
that that this order of presentation will justify itself: while all
of these undoubtedly condition each other, the later-mentioned tend
to depend more on the earlier-mentioned than the other way round.
Tradition: Non-sensory perception of some reality behind appearances
is the foundation of valid cognizing (Greek episteme, Sanskrit prama)
as distinct from simple opinion (Greek doxa, Sanskrit pratyaya
/ pratīti). Man as we see him is but a train of apparent
behavior and the world around man is but a scattered outlay of appearances.
Appearances are best cognized and gaps in apparent causal chains
(action at a distance or after an interval or both) filled when the
reality is seen as the manifestation of pervasive energy (Greek best
dynamis, energeia, Latin potestas, Sanskrit shakti)
latent in the unmanifest (say, a seed/ a young man) as potency or
tendency that gets released by a trigger (say, soil and moisture/
a nubile young woman). Changes
in human life are best seen as a stationary cycle.
Man’s cognizing is so embedded in his lifestyle (personality,
society, culture) that rightly coping with life presupposes rightly
cognizing the world.
Modernity: Observation and inference, both appropriately elaborated,
are the foundations of valid cognizing both of the world and of man
in the world. What has not been verified is best doubted,
if not rejected. The phenomena
grasped through observation and inference are to be cognized by postulating
causal regularities and forces (such as gravitation and e-electricity,
strong and weak interaction, the eros and thanatos of Freud’s psychology)
underlying the world and man in the world.
Changes in human life are best seen as an oscillatory progress.
Man’s cognizing may arise out of man’s coping with life. (So claimed Marx.) Once it has so arisen, it is so to say public property – and so
disengaged from personality, from society, from culture. (So claimed Wolfgang von den Daele.)
Man, being a living being like no other, needs to come to terms with
himself through gaining contact with the pervasive energy that makes
life possible. And through
arranging his coping with the world he is in to the extent needed
(of which asceticism is the minimal strategy).
Such is the foundation of gainful coping (siddhi). Man’s
freedom consists in the recognition of necessity, that is, the necessity
of liking what he has got. There
needs to be absolutely one way or one set of ways of coping with something;
questioning this is not freedom but dangerous anarchy.
Man, being a living being like any other, needs to come to terms with
the environment through adapting himself to it. And through adapting the environment to himself, necessity being
the mother of invention, that is, managing to get what he likes. Such is the foundation of gainful coping (success).
Man’s freedom consists in the opportunity to exercise his spontaneity,
that is in external necessity not standing in the way of internal
necessity. There need not
be one right way or even one set of ways of coping with something;
being right is being right in relation to some external necessity
and/or some internal necessity.
and Society: Tradition: This is the agriculture—oriented Society and
the Family-oriented individual (what the social the arise Ferdinand
Tünnies identified us the Gemeinschaftphase
phase of the development of society).
(i) Let a person be humble, following the imperative ‘To thyself
be enough.’ For a person to
be mature is to be socially acceptable, orderly and conforming. For a person to be immature is to be not socialized enough for want
of individualization, and to accept immortality for a person/community
with smug or panicky literalism.
(ii) Let interpersonal relations be governed by decorum and
due distance. In particular, let a person not do unto others
what he would not be done unto and try to do unto others what he would
be done unto. (Compare the
Golden Rule and atmaupamua.) For
any society to be orderly is to be bound by custom and status, and
governed by the kindly ruler assisted by the upright official.
Law is, ultimately, community-wide custom.
The best polity is the imperium consisting of the ruler
and his subjects (prajā-jana), possibly with the intermediate
layer of the select few (ritual status or power status) who can be
trusted to do good (noblesse oblige).
This leads to a clear distinction between gentry and common
folk (Greek oligos/ hoi polloi, Latin patricius/plebs, Sanskrit Šisṫajana/prākṛtajana). For a society to be devoid of order (dharmasya glāni) is to
have extremes of regimentation (eliciting obedience or shirking) or
disorder (encouraging victim’s abjectness or criminal’s violence)
or blind trust (with the credulous and the impostors).
(iii) Human peaks are seen in seers, saints, and heroes; human
valleys are simple, conservative, ordinary people.
(A mystic could be a peak or belong to the valley.) (iv) Happiness and sorrow are undivided. Let external necessity be passively accepted.
One may identify internal necessity with external necessity
(advaita) or refuse to do so (dvaita, Christianity)
in one’s discourse. (v) Women
that are not docile are like children, being ignorant and unwise.
At their best, children are sealed-down adults.
and Society: Modern: This is the city-oriented open Society and Self-development-oriented
individual (what Tünnies identified as the Gesellschaft phase of the
development of society). (i) Let a person have an unencumbered self, following the imperative
‘To thyself be true’. For
a person to be mature is to be socially responsible without ceasing
to be free or even subversive,. For
a person to be immature is to be not individualized enough for want
of socialization, and to accept mortality for a person/community with
panicky or smug literalism. (ii) Let interpersonal relations be governed
by privacy between strangers and due intimacy.
98?--- In particular,
let a person surmise with caution what the other would or would not
be done unto; inclinations differ.
For any society to be orderly is to be bound by alliance or
contract and rôle and governed by the rule of law and its administration
by efficient officialdom. Law is, ultimately, community-wide contract.
The best polity is the civil society consisting of the law-governed
and law-enforcing government and the self-possessed citizenry, possibly
with the ballast of the select few (not ritual status but power status,
where power derives from economic control, opinion control, or information
control). For a society to
be devoid of order is to have extremes of fashion (eliciting conformity
or eccentricity) or disorder (encouraging an indifference that permits
no-holds-barred competition or smooth criminality) or blind mistrust
(from skeptics or cynics). (iii)
Human peaks are seen in thinkers, artists, and leaders; human valleys
are no-nonsense commonsensical ordinary people.
(A mystic can choose to be a peak if he likes.) (iv) Freedom
and justice are undivided. The
good of the manyis the happiness of the many (the Buddhist bahujanahitaya
bahujanasukhaya is a more satisfactory formulation than the problematic
Benthamite formulation, namely, or/ ‘for the greatest happiness of
the greatest numbers’). Let internal necessity be actively accepted.
One may milate external necessity with internal necessity (optimism)
or refuse to do so (pessimism) in one’s discourse.
(v) Women, to be equal, have to be twice as good. Children are growing persons and future adults.
and Material Culture: Tradition: (i) The orderly and secure society
moulds the individual and helps him to enter into bonds of loyalty. Innovation is little more than renovation of
tradition. (Sense of on-going
history is poorly developed.) (ii) The individual either acquires
or proposes a modus vivendi (nÌti) or
a modus operandi (rÌti
or paddhati) and the community ratifies it. (The first is an
agreed way of people coming to terms with one another—this may be
the received way or something worked out, and may be may be either
moral. Person-to-person or political.
second is an agreed way of people dealing with things and activities
– whether received or worked out, whether an art-like or practical.) Personal activism and community-level activism (For a example a
revival among Christians) are recognized modes of social change. The local community (such as a guild or a village)
offers uniformity and solidarity; the larger community (such as a
city or the imperium) offers diversity and assurance. (Solidarity stands for the way of ‘each for
all and all for each’; assurance stands for the way of each assuring
compliance and insuring protection.)
The urban habitat is seen as a warp in a rural landscape. There is a clear recognition of a distinction between a way of life
nurtured with greater care or wider available opportunity of the select
few and a way of life conditioned to be plain, affordable, of general
appeal for the ordinary person and possible for the select few in
their ordinary moments – by and large nurtured by the ordinary people
(often by the culture professionals like popular-level priests, entertainers
or craftsmen. While the ordinary people tend to look upon
the select culture with reverence, poor comprehension and upon popular
culture with modest pride, the select few tend to look upon the popular
culture with good-humoured or ill-tempered condescension and upon
select culture with obvious pride.
(iii) A culture enshrines the world-view in myths and the lifestyle
in ritual. It codifies its cognizing into a scheme or
schemata, that is, a doctrine (orthodoxa, shāstra) along with residual lore (mathema, vidya)
and its coping into craft (tekhne, shilpa) and magic (abhichara). The ordinary people not only paid the piper
and called the tune, but even set or played the tune.
and Material Culture: Modernity: (i) The orderly and secure society
helps the individual to mature properly and to enter into bonds of
love. Tradition is no more than an innovation that
has come to stay. (Sense of
abiding heritage is poorly developed.)
(ii) The individual acquires or proposes a modus vivendi
or a modus operandi and the community endorses it.
Personal activism and community-level planning are recognized
modes of change. The local community (such as a neighbourhood
or a profession) offers a diversity to choose from and loose-knit
alliances, the larger community (such as a city or the civil society)
offers the same diversified menu everywhere and the assurance of free
access and anonymity. The
rural habitat is seen as gaps within or margins around the urban landscape. While the ordinary people look upon mass culture with defiant pride
and upon class culture either with indifference if not contempt or
desire for ‘vulgar’ imitation, the select look upon mass culture either
with open or concealed contempt or with self-conscious and upon class
culture with modest pride or self-conscious dismissiveness.
(iii) A culture enshrines the world-view and the lifestyle
in an ideology. It codifies
its cognizing in science and lore and its coping in technique and
craft. Mass culture is expected to be more homogenized,
more subject to trade-manipulated fashion. The culture professionals like god men act
men, mass designers who may not consume what they produce.
We have come
to the end of our skeletal inventory; there is, however, much more
in it than the skeleton that meets the casual eye.
The inventory is spare for a good reason: we have resolutely
employed high-level abstractions in preserving our philosophical stance. In working towards the respective highest common
factors of European and Indian Tradition and of European and Indian
Modernity, we have entertained the hope that the other contemporary
world civilizations, the East Asian and the South-West Asian, can
be accommodated within this synopsis both in respect of Tradition
and of Modernity without resorting to procrustean measures.
(The rubrics, Indian, European and so on, of course ignore
the geographical fluctuations due to shifts in environment, demography,
power distribution, and culture access.
For example, think of Indian Diaspora, the partition of India
or again think of European colonization in America, Africa, and Australasia
or the partition of the Church and the ‘Asian’ affinities of Eastern
Europe. I shall be happy if
those more closely familiar with the East Asian and the South-West
Asian civilizations find out whether the hope entertained is justified
At the same
time, the inventory is richer than appears to be the case. Formulations have been made with a certain
care. Notice, for example,
the difference between ‘man and the world around man’ viewed by Tradition
and ‘the world and the man in the world’ viewed by Modernity; again,
niti as modus vivendi is
being taken in the broader traditional sense and not in the later
sense confining niti to morality or sadharana niti and the
two Latin legal terms are being only slightly stretched. We have used high-level abstract rubrics like
world-view, interpersonal, freedom, order – permitting us to give
due weightage to certain matters that are ordinarily sidelined such
as the identification of human peaks or immaturity in a person or
loss of true order in society in Tradition and Modernity.
(Note how regimentation and regimented fashion are considered
to be examples of disorder and not of true social order.) Eurocentrism is consistently avoided, as is also ideology-motivated
valorization (as implying that folk is authentic and mass is inauthentic).
We have certainly
resisted the temptation of taking the easy way out and focus on European
rubrics like Epistemology, Logic, and Cosmology; Family, State and
Economy; Religion, Art, and Technology that are canonical in European
Modernity. If we wish to be
truly anthropocentric rather than ethnocentric, we need also to resist
the lure of ‘contemporary relevance’ and keep away from the idols
of the marketplace or the corridors of power or the ideological roundtable
of discussion. Ecology, Feminism, market forces, controlled
economy, forms of democracy, globalization, the fate of popular culture,
and the rest are certainly useful low-level abstractions in their
place. The inventory embodies our reflections on the
large revolution of our times, namely, the worldwide transition from
Tradition to Modernity, give or take a couple of centuries. These reflections may illuminate the contemporary
issues in a surprising manner. Thus,
given the absence of the traditional involvement in the environment
as seen in the peasant, modern ecology programmes may turn out to
be no more than a plea for enlightened real estate management or weekend
tourism for stress-reduction. Rather
than foreclosing the contemporary issues and toe the ‘politically
correct’ party line, we could try and see how far they could be subsumed
under the larger abstractions and the broader reflections.
The Individual at the Crossroads
If we have taken
some care to avoid Eurocentricity, then why have we put forward an
Indian viewpoint? An Indian viewpoint need not be the Indocentric
viewpoint. A present-day Indian can be, as in the present
case, someone that enjoys a double heritage, the Indian tradition
and the European tradition, in addition to participating in Indian
Modernity. Our preoccupation thus far with our shared
Humanity (especially as we sought to demystify tradition in the opening
portion) and with our shared Tradition and Modernity (especially as
we wondered about remystifying them) must not blind us to our problem
There is no
putting the clock back in socio-cultural action any more than in personal
action. There is no going
back from Modernity to Tradition against the arrow of time. But then there is no wiping the slate clean in socio-cultural action
any more than in personal action.
There is no simple jettisoning the baggage of Tradition to
make room for Modernity. The
arrow of time is also the seal of time.
There is an issue all right facing us.
of today, whether thinker, artist, or leader or (as carried over from
Tradition) seer, saint, or hero, is at the crossroads. (A person unselfconsciously inhabiting the
valley faces an issue, but he has no problem unless he sees himself
as rising above the rest ever so little.)
Does he turn his back on Modernity and embrace Tradition or
try to? Does he try to resolve the opposition? (Recall that Tradition
and Modernity is certainly an opposition, but it is not an antinomy.)
That is the problem.
The least satisfactory
resolution is trying an uneasy compromise or a camouflage of Tradition
as a version of Modernity or a camouflage of Modernity as a renovation
of Tradition. These no doubt
present the easy way out, and many inhabitants of the valley appear
to unselfconsciously adopt them: they are more keen on losing themselves
than on finding themselves.
How about more
limited resolutions? An example of such a strictly limited resolution
will be a resolution between Āyurveda, the doctrine of
health and healing in Indian Tradition, together with a whole lore
of healing on the one hand and the Science of health and healing in
European Modernity together with a whole lore of healing on the other
hand. Indeed up to a point
there is no problem at all – as when an Ayurvedic physician freely
adopts certain diagnostic techniques from European Modernity or when
a Modern physician incorporates Ayurvedic herbs into his pharmacopoeia.
And quietly discards certain magical practices, if one stops
to consider how the doctrine of health and healing in the European
tradition gradually transformed itself into the Modern science, one
could see how more limited resolutions could be attempted.
Examples from other canonically recognized areas like the meditational
or prophylactic practices of Yoga or Music or Business and Management
lore could be thought of. (Yoga as a world-view and lifestyle is of course
quite another matter.)
How about more ambitious and yet more satisfactory resolutions? Such resolutions,
if forthcoming, will be at once more demanding and more rewarding.
(Just think of the undesirable aspects of Modern law and jurisprudence
and the desirable aspects of the discarded Traditional law and jurisprudence.) I have no intention even to attempt such a resolution between Tradition
and Modernity; the search will probably be on the agenda for another
half-century, but I have certain broad observations to offer. (Is the younger generation listening?)
Man may be a frail reed and Tradition has certainly offered a protective
umbrella in certain world civilizations. May be he has outlived its utility and so considered Modernity to
be a better umbrella for the present juncture in the history of humankind. Why a better cover? European Modernity, at
least from the time of Hegel, has offered an answer: Tradition and
Modernity are to be seen as stages in the story of man’s quest for
freedom and order. (Traditional
India may translate this as a quest for mukti and dharma,
nibbāṇa and dhamma.) There is no sign that the quest is at an end;
indeed there are already signs
that a search for a better cover is on. (Adapting the Gita saying
to a novel context, one may say: vāsāṁsi
yathā vihāya navāṇI
gṛhṇāni naro’ parāṇI) – even as a person
discards old clothes and put on new clothes in the course of death
This new cover may not turn
out to be a resolution of the opposition between Tradition and Modernity
at all, though it could very well be that, considering that this is
not an antinomy but an opposition.
Personally, I often find myself defending Tradition in a gathering
of Modernity-zealots and defending Modernity in a gathering of Tradition-zealots. What do I do in a mixed gathering? I just proclaim:
wake up from your dogmatic slumber, you have nothing to lose but your
fear of freedom! (Or fear of order, as the case may be’. Fear of freedom is liable to make you a Tradition-zealot;
fear of order is liable to make you a Modernity-zealot.)
The philosophical tools of European Modernity are not quite satisfactory
for resolving or transcending the opposition between Tradition and
Modernity. The major obstacles,
as I see them, are two: the either-or approach arising from the verify-or-reject
methodology with the endemic pendulum swing (it is to the credit of
Kant and Niels Bohr that they spotted the problem—Kant resolved the
empiricism-apriorism tussle and Bohr resolved the wave and particle
tussle in respect of electromagnetic radiation and the matter/mind
polarity of ontology and the objective/subjective polarity of epistemology
(the problem has been spotted by modern physics and Russellian epistemology).
The Indian philosophical tool kit has something more promising,
I think: (a) Indian thinkers have offered two platforms for transcending
the either-or approach: the lower platform of the sighted man looking
at the whole elephant and taking in a more inclusive view and the
higher platform of anekānta (a useful parable will be
the cartographer’s alternate projections for mapping the earth on
a flat sheet). (b) They offer a three-way ontology of the mundane
(lAukika), the constructed (aupachārika), and the
(c) And a two-way aetiology of genesis (utpatti/pariṇati) and manifestation
(abhivyakti) – comparable respectively to the relation of inferability
(or functional relationship) and the relation of participation (Plato’s
methéxis/koinonia in phaedo and elsewhere
in Traditional Europe). These
tools offer greater flexibility in handling the complexities of human
life. (Modern Europe has hasṭily discarded the relation
We have noted earlier that there are already signs that a search for
a better cover than Modernity is on. Since the emergence of Modernity in human history was closely associated
with the European civilization, it was to be expected that the questioning
of Modernity first occurred in that civilization and that the questioning
often took the form of a questioning of the European civilization
itself. A radical questioning
of the worldview and lifestyle of Modernity, unaccompanied by any
proposal for a return to Tradition, started in late 19th
century Europe – probably with Nietzsche, who proposed a ‘transvaluation
of values’ d, at a more popular level. Anby later, by Oswald ngler’s Decline of
the West 20)
The current wave of post-modernisms sounds more like adventurist whistlings
in the dark than resolute attempts to work one’s way out; they typically
attract such followers as are looking for intellectual chic or quick-fix
protection from the fear of order.
The postmodernist thinkers are dealing with a certain cultural
situation of the late 20th – century European civilization
– a situation defined on the one hand by the perceived exhaustion
of the whole Renaissance and Enlightenment projects (respectively
of rationalism, individualism, nationalism and of utilitarianism,
egalitarianism, secularism) and on the other hand by the perceived
flood of momentary artifacts and mentifacts thrown up by the passing
show of the proliferation of consumer goods and services of media,
travel, and tourism, of fashion and pop-culture which imprisons the
attention within the I, the here, and the now.
The anarchistic urge in many of these thinkers to celebrate
the vanity of all cognitive and lifestyle claims (the slogans like
there are no foundations; but anything, goes).
In any case, realizing that we are at the crossroads is a necessary first
step. Even the longest journey
begins with a small step.
There are a couple of matters that do not lie in the main line of argument
but need to be clarified.
In the section entitled ‘Remystifying Tradition?’ we have set up “schematic
matrix of world history.
6-8 Century B C E to 4-6 Century C E
Ancient European civilization
Ancient Indian civilization
The phase of
4-6 Century C E to 13-17 Century C E
Mediaeval European civilization
Mediaeval Indian civilization
13-17 Century C E to the present day
Modern European civilization
Modern European civilization
The phase of Modernity
Indians are understandably inclined to comparing these two civilizations
and to do so in an evaluative manner.
What is peculiar though is that they do so in a historically
skew manner-comparing the Modern European with the Traditional Indian
civilizations. In evaluative
terms, the traditionalists in India think that the European civilization
comes off the worse (when asked what he thought of the European civilization,
Gandhiji retorted, European civilization? Not a bad idea!).
The modernists in India think that the Indian civilization
comes off the worse (when asked what he thought of the Indian civilization,
a European hippy who had come to India said, I couldn’t find it, I
realized that I came a few centuries too late!) ‘The comparison is
rendered skew in one other manner: it is not fair to evaluate one
civilization in its degenerate, atrophied or hypertrophied phase unfavourably
as against another civilization in its healthy, peak phase.
In the present study, we have taken an Archimedean stance in order to understand
the revolution that took the Indo-European man from Tradition into
Modernity, in the course of global history.
One might very well ask, How was the European man taken from Tradition
into modernity a few centuries ahead of the Indian man? Let me offer
a capsule of an answer.
Europe the peasant’s adherence
to the tried and true ways past was challenged by the creeping technical
innovations introduced around the 11th century by the Benedictine
and find the Cistercian monks who were enjoined by their vows to their
own food and clothing besides following their conventional scholarly
pursuits. They applied their
minds to farming, sheep-raising, and wool-making.
Again, members of another monastic order, Jesuits applied their
mind in the 16th century to the rearing of young minds
and tried novel ways of doing so.
This way the grounds for the successive technological and educational
revolutions that came with Modernity were well and truly laid-Innovation
followed by its obsolescence in the face of fresh innovation came
to be an accepted fact of life in the European civilization in place
of the earlier conservatism. Eventually, historical reality caught up with
India and modernity came to Indian shores. Other episodes in India such as the coming of the large empire and
the emergence of a powerful ruler subduing warring nobles also helped
Modernity in India.
Demystifying Tradition: one cannot understand what tradition is without
understanding what human life is like. If humans are living beings like any other, they are at the same
time living beings unlike any other, with their dimensions of personality,
society, culture, and worldview and their proclivity for antinomies. Two of these, antinomies of history and of
self-identity land human beings into tradition and modernity, using
the terms in a relative sense.
Remystifying Tradition? :
But then how about Tradition and Modernity as also names for a fact
of human history? Regional differences between Europe and India apart,
Tradition and Modernity serve to spell two alternate worldviews and
The Individual at the Crossroad: There is no scope for embracing one
and jettisoning the other. The
directions for working out a satisfactory resolution of the opposition
in future are indicated.
It is obvious that I ought to be giving citation for attested
traits from primary source (for example, for atmaupamya ant
the Golden Rule under Tradition and the questioning of this under
Modernity). Then there are the citations for the various
insights I owe to the secondary sources though I have not always wholly
adhered to these (for example, for the foundations of the social order
under Tradition and Modernity my immediate debt is to Auden and indirect
debt is to Tonnies and Maine). It
is interesting to note how some of the details of the opening account
of life and human life drawing upon modern science have been partially
anticipated in the tradition (for example, death as dissolution into
cosmic elements or as reduction to dust). Tracking all these down will take a while:
I hope to do that later. I
crave the reader’s indulgence for this lacuna.
An earlier version was presented at an international seminar on Parampara
and the Individual at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts,
New Delhi. January 1998 and
published in The Nature of Living Traditions: Distinctive features
of Indian parampara, ed. Baidyanath Saraswati, IBNCA and D.K. Print
World, New Delhi, 1998, p 91-104.
This a carefully revised and slightly amplified version.