Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Indian Psyche

The conception that we are here just for a while whereas our real abode lies somewhere else is so prevalent in our psyche that it transforms whatever we touch or experience around us.

Our life is but a sojourn to be lived through.

But the westerner treats this earth as the primary. He/She lives here as if the earth was meant to be lived on by them. As if they own it, as if they can transform it to suit their needs, as if to live and enjoy the earth was their birthright.

We however, are guilty about enjoyment, about luxury and seem to think that life is nought but suffering. Our religions bemoan the earthly existence, considering it a stage to be transcended. We have an attitude of "moral superiority" over the western "decadent" cultures but that superiority rings hollow in our behaviour. We Know in Our Hearts that we are an inferior culture, an inferior race, made to serve the masters.

Even when we are rich, we are loath to spend that money. We save because the master's wrath might be just around the corner, and what will serve us through that winter of need? We are sceptical about a continuing prosperity and happiness, and our faces and hearts are twinged with fear and insecurity. There is no exuberance in us, no celebration of existing on this planet. Our lives are a progression of one event after another, of one duty fulfilled and of another waiting...

This contrast between the Indian psyche and the western psyche becomes poignant outside India. It becomes clear that we resent our existence and the existence of our fellow Indians. We recognize the pestilence that is our collective race, and we turn our eyes away from it. When an Indian tries to shed his/her Indian inferiority, we resent him/her for betraying his/her background; but when he/she continues to be an "Indian" amidst other cultures, we bemoan and resent our heritage.

This idea continues most prominently into the sexual sphere. How we make love to each other is symptomatic of this inner disease. It is an act not to be enjoyed but to be gotten over with. Not "recreation" but "procreation", and that too when a child is needed to be brought into the world (or so the Vedas teach us). In Indian cities, courtship and expressions of intimacy are taboo. People do it nevertheless, but what fear of censure! What tense feelings of love being "opposed to society". We are still in struggle with society. And as such, our individual quests have not even begun. The struggle within hasn't started because our energies are spent in struggling to create a space for ourselves in a voyeueristic jungle.

Unable to cope with a vision of our disintegrating selves and of our excuse of an existence, we turn to spirituality, the balm that tells us that to be low and meek is to be exalted, that to be sinful but repentant is to be forgiven, that the greatest victory is over the feeling of being here on earth.

We are not here on earth, we don't want to be, and our woes and wails are the result of it, not the other way round.

Looking down from the window of a Boeing 747-400 airliner, looking at the remarkable planning of western cities, the clean lines and the graceful curving highways, it is clear that we will never reach that level of evolution. Technically we may be able to do things, but we will always be wayfarers on earth, and so doing and demanding the best here will never be important for us.

Our lives are governed by need, not by enjoyment. Even when we are rich.

And that is the essence of poverty.


the_infamous said...

I read through your blog about "Indian Phsyche". It seemed to reflect that the Indians are basically unhappy about their way of life compared to the westerners and they continue to live like that.

Also, are you trying to point out that no matter how much they earn financially or intellectually, they would still have a sense of poverty.

If you think I have misinterpreted you please let me know

Harmanjit Singh said...

The deep reason for this is the feeling of the earth being a sojourn only. Financial evolution has little to do with it. Intellectual evolution, if it means an annihilation of this facet of our conditioning, will certainly help.

Anonymous said...

Friend Harmanjit,

That is very thought-provoking indeed.

I agree with you that our religious beliefs and associated upbringing has taught us to shun covetousness.

But I think its more than religious beliefs that have stunted our growth. Even Christianity and Buddhism and other Eastern religions shun avarice and still you have America, Europe, China, Japan and many other countries growing richer by the decade.

Was India always that partially developed nation it now is? For over a few thousand years India was one of the richest lands in the world. Even then, we still had the same belief system we now decreasingly have. In fact, people were more serious followers of the Vedas than the many confused folk of today.

I think somewhere after the Industrial revolution, we have fallen short somewhere. A lot of people have analyzed the causes of why our civilization has not kept pace with the times.

Why has the West accelerated suddenly in the last century or even lesser, while we still sustain the famous 'Hindu' rate of growth? Why have scientific medical discoveries, once pioneered by the east, been replaced by the west? Why has the balance of power shifted in the last few centuries.

Or is the sudden growth of the West in the last 2-300 years meant to be nothing more than their illusion which will collapse in as many more years. Going by the low white population growth rates, it certainly looks alarmingly possible.

Lets hope for the best. I am confident that in a few more centuries, things will change for the better for everyone, including every living Indian. Perhaps Vedic values, if there are any honest followers left by then, will once again be relevant. And we wont have to despise ourselves..

I am at the moment living a few hundred miles from Chicago.. and often sadly contemplate on the differences between my great nation of the past and this great nation of the present, just as you do..

Anonymous said...

A different but narrow-sighted take. We are a very proud and an original civilization. The people who slobber after the western-ites have lost their soul and are immersed in greed which makes them do such things. And for that alone they are nothing but to be despised. The core of Indian philosophy is to uplift oneself from any form of superficiality and do one's Dharma. The teachings of Mahabharata and Gita are golden and I am proud everyday to belong to a civilization which came up with anything like that. We only need to practice them more often and not just talk about them.

Already Indian companies have started on a global expedition. Soon we will be a global phenom again.

Anonymous said...

it also seems to me that we display the psyche of poverty, even when rich. we love to denounce the "materialistic" west, but we're as materialistic as any, especially urban indians (getting standardized education by the hoardes, looking for a respectable "package", getting married, buying a car, buying a house). the society has charted out a so called ideal life for us - which we busy ourselves with pursuing, not so much as questioning it.

regarding the second part of your post, the concept of an afterlife (the "real" life) is equally strong in the western/christian tradition.

Harmanjit Singh said...

The concept of an after-life in western religions is pretty much a replica of earthly life, with amplitude variation.

In eastern religions, the real goal is transcendence from the world, with the yoke of a body thrown off for good.

Anonymous said...

I think Indians are as materialstic and unspiritual as their occidental brethren----religion is a surfacial thing---true vast numbers of us must live like animals---why is too large a question---will it always be so ---someone said ,the only way to predict the future is to create it----

Ketan said...

A lot of what you wrote here, reminded me of Ayn Rand's writings in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged (especially the latter). But which would also tell me that, then same problem must also afflict the West considering Rand has lived only in the West!

Anyway, I too had wondered why these differences are there, and I think the reason is the degree to which religion has been thrown out of Western society.

The issue is not of how many people recognize themselves as theists v/s atheists, but how faithfully the corresponding theists comply with the religious dictats, and what components of one's religion are followed in daily life, despite the fact that all the religions state nearly the same things with regard to hedonism and overall significance of man.

This difference has arisen because in the Indian subcontinent, religion had never restricted vast majority of people's lives in a stifling and significant way. Yes, there were gross and perceptible atrocities, but always against the vulnerable and the minority, hence the 'mainstream' was still happy. Also, the Brahmins (corresponding to the Christian clergy) still used to live lives comparable to the common man's in terms of their asceticism. Whereas, in Europe of the dark ages and just before the formation of the USA, the church in collusion with the aristocracy had suppressed and antagonized the common man from every section of the society to such a degree that there was a reactionary outburst against them. This reactionary opposition is what possibly made democracy, equality of races and gender, hedonism, egoism, etc., possible.

But unlike the West, which burst like a pressure cooker, Indians have only been slowly simmering in the religious heat, and hence not even recognizing religion's anti-life agenda in their daily lives. :)

What do you think about this 'hypothesis'?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@ketan, i am not too sure of the underlying causes, but religion and servility do seem like two major factors, and which go hand in hand. you would notice that the notion of "bhakti" (devotion, akin to servility) and "pooja" (a humiliating set of actions to revere someone else) or drinking "charnamrit" (feet-wash water of the teacher) etc. or utterly debasing oneself ("shastang pranaam") are more in India than in the western religions.

as for brahmins, their asceticism is more of a mythology than a fact. they were usually rich and connected. but i am not a historian, and this needs more study (for me).

i also write about this in my democracy essay: