On January 9, 2019, a special lecture on the topic “Sri Aurobindo and Renaissance in India” was organised at Sri Aurobindo Society. The invited speaker for this event, Dr. Kundan Singh has a rich academic experience of teaching and research in the fields of psychology, philosophy and Sri Aurobindo Studies in various institutions in the USA.
In this first part of his talk, Dr. Singh briefly speaks of the prejudicial colonial narrative on Indian civilisation and culture prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries, which led Sri Aurobindo to give a strong rejoinder through several of his essays. These are now compiled under the volume ‘The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture.’ The speaker argues that the prejudicial nature of some of the academic discourse on India continues to this day, in newer forms and with newer terminology. This is what makes Sri Aurobindo’s strong defense of Indian civilisation and his forceful response to William Archer’s baseless and uninformed criticism of Indian culture highly relevant to this day.
Dr. Kundan Singh makes an important argument that some of the existing ideologically-driven narratives on India and Indian culture hamper the work of Indian renaissance, and gives an example from some of his recent work which systematically challenged the extremely prejudicial and Hinduphobic nature of textbooks being used in California schools.
Dr. Singh highlights that the same prejudicial narrative on India that we find in some of the academic circles in the West also carries over to Indian academic and other spheres. He emphasises that this is so because most Indians do not have a correct, insider understanding of the true genius of Indian culture.
Quoting some of the key insights from Sri Aurobindo’s essays titled “The Renaissance in India” Kundan highlights what he thinks may be understood by Sri Aurobindo’s emphasis on the “recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness” as the first, most essential work that must be done for a renewal of India’s unique civilizational spirit.
He also speaks about the need to know the past, but in a way that helps us revitalize it, move ahead and bring forth the essential spirit of the past in newer forms appropriate to the present and future that is yet to come. He discusses how each civilisation has a unique cosmology, a worldview, a particular set of ethos which it uses to look at and evaluate another civilisation. This is important to understand if we want to truly engage with another civilisations and cultures in a constructive manner.
He further elaborates that Western civilisation, for the most part, has not transcended the mind, which is why mysticism in the West is not central to its civilisational ethos. On the other hand, Indian civilisation has always enriched itself by the deeper knowledge of the mystics, seers and yogis.
Dr. Singh adds that it is important to understand the core on which Indian civilisation has been built, and unless and until we understand this we won’t be able to explain India to ourselves or to anyone else. The yogic knowledge does not even have a legitimacy in the Indian academic context — this must change, Dr. Singh emphasised, if a true Indian renaissance is to happen. Unless Indians learn to see and know India from an Indian perspective, we can never have a true renewal of this civilisation. Our education system has an important role to play in this.
In this final part of his lecture, Dr. Kundan Singh emphasises the need for Indian academics to master the Indian systems of thought as well as the Western systems of thought if they wish to truly contribute to an integral renaissance of Indian civilisation. He speaks of this as a special yoga which must be done in the right spirit, not by making the mind and thought as the be-all and end-all of every effort but by recognising that this is only a preparation for becoming an instrument of the Divine in playing a role in the recovery and renewal of this civilisation.
While briefly describing the integral nature of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, Dr. Singh emphasises that it is that kind of synthesis which is the need of the hour, not a mix-and-match kind of potpourri that goes on in the name of cross-cultural interactions which are not grounded in the true knowledge and understanding of either the Indian or the Western knowledge systems.
He concluded his talk about the need for developing a greater and deeper self-knowledge – both as an individual and as a civilisation if we want to truly contribute to the Indian renaissance. He reminded the audience that Sri Aurobindo transcended all the binaries of tradition and modernity, conservatism and progressivism, India and the World, and that is what we must remember when invoking any of his writings as guides for our march ahead as a civilisation.
~ Beloo Mehra