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THE HERITAGE OF ANCIENT INDIA

THE HERITAGE OF ANCIENT INDIA


The East generally, and India especially, was enamoured of philosophy, mysticism and altruism. Soul-culture, emancipation of the senses from the thraldom of fleshly appetites that soul and sense might join hands in the service of the good, the true and the beautiful -- such was the central idea of the ancient Hindus. The masses and their leaders were so immersed in creation and expression of the pure principles in art and architecture, in trade and commerce, in life and daily drudgery; they were so intent on building political and social institutions which would enable the many to live and labour like the cultured few -- that their splendid gold was spent in the cause of peace rather than to bring forth the weapons of war. Offensive wars were never thought of, and even preparations for defense against attacks from without were not seriously considered. Thus India became an open target for the ambitious arms of foreign foes.

In the long and eventful story of India, foreign invasions occupy perhaps the most prominent place in Indian history today. The fierce battles, bringing in their wake marked political changes and effects, catch the mind's eye to such an extent that hardly any attention is paid to the slow uprising of stately edifices of peace, of progress, of culture. So much is said about the doings of the conquering heroes that the tale of the splendid performance of the conquered are forgotten. When we read of the exploits of Alexander, or Nadirshah, of the achievements of Baber or Akbar, we generally neglect to enquire what kind of people were exploited or conquered. What is true of these other conquests is equally true of British penetration into India and the rearing of the Empire, the foundations of which were laid by Clive and Hastings.

The Western world, even today, seems to prefer the gory conquests of war to the slow achievements of peace. The French are more proud of Napoleon the soldier than of Napoleon the maker of the Code Napoléon. The British, in their turn, honour Warren Hastings for his work as soldier-statesman (part of which at any rate is regarded by some historians as of doubtful morality), but few know that he was a patron of Sanskrit and Persian knowledge and culture and that we owe the Bhagavad-Gita to the support and encouragement he gave to Charles Wilkins. War has been regarded by the western masses as the greater achievement. Perhaps -- who can tell? -- this is the strange and unrecognized nemesis of the act of the Roman Governor and the Jewish priest which sent Jesus to the Cross.

A growing demand exists on the part of the American public to know more about Eastern, and especially Indian culture, but readers should be on their guard while selecting books, as a basis for their information and acquaintance. Some books are written by biased and interested parties who see nothing but evil, degradation, and the superstition in India: these outpourings may be discarded. On the other hand there are idealists and visionaries who express their dreams of old India. Their statements may be taken with caution. Let the enquirer seek for the facts.

But in studying the long story of India, let us look for the achievements of the people in times of peace. What they did, how they lived, what were the ideals and ideas uppermost in their thoughts, why they acted and behaved in ways that seem peculiar to us, what were their religious and philosophic beliefs -- these and such like themes will reveal the greatness and grandeur of a people who grappled with knowledge, and thus an understanding of spirituality, thousands of years ago. We know something about the conquests of India; but do we know how the soul of India conquered Alexander, captured Baber, and even today, in spite of the clamour of millions upon millions, keeps the British, in a sense, prisoners in that old land?

They loathe leaving India and yet are unable to make it their home. Their lot will not improve till at least a number of them assimilate the gifts which the Soul of the ever-young Mother India is offering them. The Indians of all castes and classes can help them, but a danger awaits these. If Indians do not remain true to the teachings of their own almost forgotten Rishis they will become like unto their conquerors -- take pride in and glorify the passion of war and forget their old, old Dharma -- to give their teaching by and through the sacrifice of Soul. It would indeed be a day of tragedy for the world, were the India of the Indians to become anglicized. In this tragedy the spiritual welfare of the entire West would be participant. The true lesson of ancient Aryavarta remains still to be learned by both East and West.



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