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Interfacing Ancient Wisdom and Modern Ideals: A Reappraisal of Indian Philosophy in the Global Context

Interfacing Ancient Wisdom and Modern Ideals: A Reappraisal of Indian Philosophy in the Global Context

  • The recent visit by Prime Minister Modi to the United States and celebration of the International Yoga Day is a clear instance where the profundity of these teachings can be widely shared to create a better world for all.

Indian philosophy, a treasure trove of profound wisdom accrued over millennia of introspective and existential exploration, elucidates grand narratives about the self, society, and the cosmos. Rooted in the timeless philosophies of Yoga, Sankhya, and Vedanta, these narratives pave the path for a transformative journey towards self-realization, engendering the dissolution of ego and debilitating emotions such as anger and jealousy. Practices including pranayama, asanas, and meditative techniques such as Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi culminating in Samyama guide individuals on a spiritual journey to dissolve into ‘Brahman’ also called Moksha- the ultimate universal truth. 

However, these philosophical teachings may sometimes lead to a passive interpretation of the world, implying that it is destined to follow its course, with or without our intervention. Such perspectives, echoed by some highly qualified Indian scholars, embody and reinforce this concept. Moreover, associating these cosmic cycles of time further leads to misrepresentation and misinterpretation of the epochs. The current epoch is of “Kuliga,” as propounded in our ancient literature and teachings by Rishis. During this era of kaliyuga, the scriptures state that the status of society and the individual deteriorate and result in chaos and confusion and corruption. In such instances, awareness of these teaching may lead to in some cases and potentially propagate inactivity and passivity, serving as a point of contention in our contemporary, rapidly evolving world. 

The Yogic philosophy and lifestyle, revered for fostering a state of internal bliss and satisfaction sans significant reliance on material comforts or external world accomplishments, can appear at odds with the Western perception of progress. According to the Western narrative, often underpinned by material accumulation and outward advancement, the Yogic way of life might seemingly lead to societal stagnation. However, within the paradigm of Indian philosophy, progress transcends the material realm and is deeply rooted in the internal journey toward unification with Brahman. 

Swami Vivekananda, a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies to the Western world, once said, “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea.” This sentiment encapsulates the essence of the Yogic path, where the inward journey toward realizing Brahman becomes the primary guiding force in one’s life. 

“Wherever there is Krishna, the lord of yoga, and Arjuna, bearer of the bow, there will indeed be splendor, victory, extraordinary power, and righteousness.”

Interestingly, these contrasting interpretations of progress found their way into international policy discourse. Max Weber, a German sociologist influenced by Protestant ethics, became a prominent proponent of this Western narrative. Weber’s philosophy found significant resonance in the United Nations charter post World War II, advocating indigenous societies with rich cultural heritages, such as India, to evolve towards a Western worldview prioritizing individual freedom, rights, and self-progress. 

Nevertheless, the concept of progress is inherently context-specific, reflecting the distinct cultural, historical, and philosophical realities of societies globally. Indian philosophies, far from being antiquated, are dynamic wellsprings of enduring truths that advocate for the preservation of nature, women’s and animal rights, disease prevention, and the promotion of healthy minds, bodies, and relationships. 

In the midst of this discourse, the philosophies underscore ‘Dharma’ — an inherent duty incumbent upon every individual — as a cornerstone of life. Therefore, despite the potential for Karma to be misconstrued as a reason for inaction, this interpretation should not be used as an excuse for apathy or a lack of collective action to preserve these timeless philosophies and indigenous practices. 

In conclusion, the confluence of ancient wisdom with modern understanding can pave the way for harmonious coexistence, contributing significantly to global well-being. Indian philosophy, with its rich heritage, and the modern world, with its scientific advancements, are not antagonistic entities. Rather, they can complement each other, offering a more inclusive, comprehensive, and respectful path towards progress. Bridging the gap between ancient wisdom and modern ideals could foster a flourishing society where individual progress and collective well-being coalesce. 

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This integration, however, must be more than a mere inward journey; it should also manifest in tangible action. As Swami Vivekananda rightly pointed out, “They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” The bliss and self-realization experienced by a yogi through internal exploration should ultimately express itself in activity — in actions that uphold and preserve Dharma. This simultaneous inward and outward engagement strikes a necessary balance, ensuring that individuals continue to contribute to societal progress and the preservation of Dharma, even as they journey towards self-realization. 

In this broader global context, Indian philosophy, therefore, demands a comprehensive reappraisal for its potential to contribute to a modern, interconnected world. It is even more critical now than ever as Yoga and various methods propounded by the Hindu scriptures become ever more popular and practiced around the world. The recent visit by Narendra Modi to the United States and celebration of the international yoga day is a clear instance where the profundity of these teachings can be widely shared to create a better world for all. 

As we interface ancient wisdom and modern ideals, it’s incumbent upon us to remember the prophetic words of the Bhagavad Gita, “Wherever there is Krishna, the lord of yoga, and Arjuna, bearer of the bow, there will indeed be splendor, victory, extraordinary power, and righteousness.” This reminder serves as a beacon of hope and a call to action as we navigate the complexities of the modern world, guiding us toward a future where victory, in the truest sense, is indeed guaranteed. 

Shashi Kusuma M.D. is a practicing Plastic surgeon in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL.  He is an active mender of the Hindu American Foundation and a co-founder of the Hindu American PAC of Florida. 

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  • With his insightful analysis Dr. Kusuma had expertly integrated the current events. This article rightfully highlights the need for the various sections of Indian diaspora to educate itself and reclaim our rightful place in this world. I commend the author for this timely article.

    • Thank you bDr.Pochi. It is my view that once the border populace is aware and learns the nature and history and teachings and realizes, most importantly through seeing study, this world will be a abode of bliss for all 🙏

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