Culture

Why Does The Left Ignore India’s Indigenous Intellectual Traditions? 

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What explains the refusal of India’s leftists to honour what is honourable in Indian history and traditions?

India has one of the greatest intellectual traditions in the world and it has nothing to do with modern Indian leftist scholars and writers. It is the tradition of numerous yogis, sages and seers going back to the Vedas, extending through Vedanta, Buddhism and related dharmic traditions to their many exponents today.

Dharmic traditions teach us how to develop the mind in the highest sense of universal consciousness, not simply logic and conceptual thought. India’s great minds, centuries ago, produced the many paths of yoga and the largest variety of exalted spiritual philosophies and psychologies in the world. And their teachings remain alive and vibrant even today, spreading globally.

Yet, India’s dharmic tradition has not just addressed consciousness and spirituality, but has also produced a vast literature on art, science, medicine, mathematics and politics – all the main domains of thought and culture.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Swami Vivekananda transformed world thinking, introducing yoga, meditation and higher states of consciousness at a time before Einstein had discovered the relativity of time and space and the illusory nature of physical reality, something long taught in Vedanta and Buddhism.

Sri Aurobindo unfolded the idea of a higher evolution of consciousness in humanity and produced Savitri, the longest blank verse poem in the English language, revealing transformative yogic secrets that the West had yet to conceive. Yet, many of these great Indic thinkers wrote in Sanskrit or regional languages of India and have not been properly noted, much less studied.

Vedantic teachers like Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Dayananda have guided India in recent decades, commenting on cultural as well as spiritual affairs, using English as their main language of expression, so that the modern audience can easily understand them. Ram Swarup and Sitaram Goel produced excellent critiques of communism and Western religious fundamentalism.

New Yoga teachings have come out from India’s modern gurus, too numerous to mention, and there is now a detailed modern literature on Ayurvedic medicine in English. New books on India’s past have been written by important archaeologists and historians, uncovering the depth and antiquity of India’s many-sided civilisation.

Meanwhile, there is a dynamic new generation of insightful and articulate Indic/dharmic writers with new books and articles, and active in the social media, including Sanjeev Sanyal, Hindol Sengupta, Vamsee Juluri, Tufail Ahmad, and Amish Tripathi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been an important part of this intellectual/media awakening of pro-India scholars and writers, who honour the profound traditions of the country going back to ancient times.

The Left’s false claim to intellectual superiority

India’s Left has long claimed that Hindus are not intellectual and are unscientific, mindlessly repeating old racist colonial and missionary propaganda. Yet the Left has not produced any original thinkers, much less sages. It hasn’t even understood India’s own vast culture, which is the saddest commentary on its endeavours. India’s leftist scholars are largely Lord Macaulay’s children, promoting Western thought, disowning India’s older and more extensive cultural heritage.

India’s Left has no understanding of higher states of consciousness, as clearly explained in the dharmic traditions, or any interest in exploring them. It is wedded to gross materialism and physical reality, preferring to write about sex and politics, not anything transcendent. While traditional Hindu thought recognises seven chakras from basic human urges to the highest cosmic consciousness, leftist writers are happy to wallow in the lower one or two, as if they were contributing something exalted to the world.

While modern physics is embracing the idea of cosmic consciousness and great physicists like Oppenheimer have quoted the Bhagavad Gita, India’s Left is firmly caught in the outer world of maya, which it does not question. It has little sense of cosmology and not much vision beyond political propaganda. Yet, India’s scientists honour their own spiritual traditions like Subhash Kak and George Sudarshan, who are not products of the Left.

India’s leftists seldom learn Sanskrit or study the great philosophers, thinkers and poets of the country. While they can quote Shakespeare they deem it’s beneath their dignity to honour Kalidas. They cannot examine the Ramayana or Mahabharata except in terms of Marxist or Freudian theories. They may discuss women’s rights but have no experience of India’s powerful traditions of Goddess worship. They are like the children of the old British Raj for whom anything Indian, particularly Hindu, is primitive superstition to be frowned upon.

Indian immigrants now make up the highest strata of Western society in terms of education and affluence, comprising doctors, engineers, scientists, and software developers, most of who are respectful of India’s spiritual traditions. They are not products of the Left either.

India’s leftists, meanwhile, take academic posts both in India and the West, from which they can take potshots at their own culture and pretend to be wise while drawing comfortable salaries from the very governments they like to criticise. They would never practice yoga, mantra or meditation, as the people in the West are now doing more and more – including many thinkers and innovators. Note the example of Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, who carried Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi with him, and probably never heard of Romila Thapar, Ram Guha or Irfan Habib.

Intellectual arrogance of the Left

The problem is that India’s leftist intellectuals are products of the ego-mind, what is called the rajasic buddhi in yogic thought, which is marked by intellectual arrogance. Without first learning deep meditation, one cannot go beyond the prejudices of the outer intellect and its attachment to name, form and personality. One needs to become silent and receptive within in order to truly know oneself and the universe. This teaching has been clearly articulated since the ancient Upanishads did so in a series of inspired dialogues and debates over 3,000 years ago.

It is time for India’s leftist intellectuals to honour their own profound dharmic traditions. Then they might be capable of something more original and transformative than to imitate the superficial views of the western leftists, which is their current state of affairs. It might give them better ethical rules of behaviour to emulate as well.

The role of India’s true intelligentsia should be to sustain India’s cultural unity, spirituality and creativity, for the nation and the world – not trying to replace their own venerable traditions with worn out leftist agendas that have failed everywhere they have been implemented.