"The secret of religion lies not in theories but in practice. To be good and do good - that is the whole of religion." - Swami Vivekananda







PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | July 2013  




     India's Contribution to the World


     Brahmachari Suvimalachaitanya




     India's contribution to world civilization has been large, and will be larger in the future. As time passes, paradoxically, India's contributions are being more and more revealed and acknowledged. This is preparing the ground for her future right to serve the world. Those who look from the economic, military, or other angles completely miss out India's presence, because she is almost absent in these areas. But looked from the spiritual angle India's contribution is vast. Humankind is moving towards its higher spiritual destiny and it is from this perspective that she is and will be important.



     India's Influence



     Swami Vivekananda said about India's contribution: "India's contribution to the sum total of human knowledge has been spirituality, philosophy. These she contributed even long before the rising of the Persian Empire; the second time was during the Persian Empire; for the third time during the ascendancy of the Greeks; and now for the fourth time during the ascendancy of the English, she is going to fulfil the same destiny once more." (1)


     Sylvain Levy, the eminent French scholar, said about India's influence:


     From Persia to the Chinese sea, from the icy regions of Siberia to the islands of Java and Borneo, from Oceania to Socotra, India has propagated her beliefs, her tales, and her civilization. She has left indelible imprints on one­fourth of the human race in the course of a long succession of centuries. She has the right to reclaim in universal history the rank that ignorance has refused her for a long time and to hold her place amongst the great nations summarizing and symbolizing the spirit of Humanity. (2)


     Every nation has its distinctive feature and this makes for the vast diversity of humankind. India's distinctive feature is its teaching that life is essentially spiritual. It is true that no civilization has ever lived and thrived without a spiritual basis, for civilization has no meaning without the control of the baser impulses and a concern for others as well as the environment. But those civilizations that aimed primarily at increasing their dominance, thirsting for power and pleasure, inevitably died out. The craze for power and material supremacy brings in its train wars of conquest, exploitation, subjugation of other races, and mutual conflict among conquering nations. Ceaseless striving for material satisfaction never brings satisfaction but spurs people to more external conquests till they simply exhaust themselves to become prey to other conquering people.


     E. J. Urwick, in his remarkable book The Message of Plato, traced the major ideas of Plato to Indian philosophy. (3) Richard Garbe, regarded as the greatest authority on Sankhya philosophy in Europe, held the view that Sankhyan ideas have exerted great influence on the doctrines of Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Democritus, and Epicurus. (4) Moriz Winternitz was convinced that Pythagoras was influenced by Sankhya philosophy, and that the Gnostic and the Neo­Platonist philosophers took up many Indian philosophical ideas. (5)


     Max Müller argued that Pythagoras came in touch with some brahmanas in Persia, if not in India, and that his famous theorem is found in the Shulba Sutra of Bodhayana. (6) And it is said that he received the ideas of the science of music, the importance of the numbers, and the existence of the fifth element from India (ibid.). The Pythagoreans regarded spitting before fire as a grievous sin, and they abstained from beans - both of these are Vedic conventions (ibid.). Henry T Colebrooke said that the doctrines of Pythagoras were rooted in India (ibid.).


     Plotinus is known to have travelled to the East and to have come in contact with Indian philosophers. (7) Indian philosophers have again and again emphasized the idea that the Absolute, which is also the Infinite, cannot be apprehended by the finite human mind, nor expressed in the limited human speech. One of the ways of understanding the absolute Reality, in Indian philosophy, is by the process of elimination, "neti neti; not this, not this", which also constitutes the central idea in the philosophy of Plotinus, who said: "We can say what it is not, but we cannot say what it is?" (8) He further stated:


     When we say ... that He is above being, we do not say that He is this or that. We affirm nothing; we do not give Him any name ...We do not try to understand Him: it would in fact be laughable to try to understand that incomprehensible nature. But we ... do not know what to call Him. ... Even the name of the One expresses no more than the negation of His plurality. The problem must be given up, and research fall into silence. What is the good of seeking when further progress is impossible? ...If we wish to speak of God, or to conceive him, let us give up everything. When this has been done ? let us examine rather whether there is still not something to be given up. (9)


     There is also evidence of the presence of Indian thinkers in Athens as early as the fourth century BCE. One Indian met Socrates and asked him what the scope of his philosophy was. "Replied Socrates, "an enquiry into human phenomenon." This reply drew from the Indian a diffident query who exclaimed, "How can a man enquire into human phenomena when he is ignorant of divine ones?" (10)


     Alexander the Great came to India's western region in 327 BCE, conquering all the countries on his way. It seems he had a secret desire to come in touch with India's philosophic and spiritual thought because Aristotle, his teacher, has asked him to obtain a teacher from India. Greek historians have preserved the episode of his meeting with an Indian sage in Punjab. Swami Ranganathananda narrated it thus:


     The Emperor went to meet him and, impressed by his talk with him, invited him to accompany him to Greece. The sage declined the invitation. The Emperor persuaded and pressed him. Still he did not accept. Then asserting his position as the Emperor, Alexander drew his sword and threatened to kill him if he did not obey his behest. At this, the sage burst into a laughter. When the Emperor asked the reason for his laughter and whether he was not afraid of his sword, the sage replied that this was the most foolish thing that he had ever said in his life; that he, the Emperor of the material world, could never kill him, since he was not the body but the spirit, eternal and ever free, which no fire could burn, no water could wet, and no weapons could pierce. And for once, in his all­conquering career, the Emperor came across a person who did not fear him. The whole world feared him; the whole world bent down before him; but he saw this one man in India before him who stood calm, and fearless of all the material power represented by this Emperor. (11)


     The thought of the third century Alexandrian philosopher Ammonius Saccas reflects Indian inspiration. He met Indians and had his initiation into yoga, of which he became master.(12) It may be noted that the disciplines he practised were unknown in Alexandria at that time. "Ammonius, the master, made such an impression on his times by his great wisdom and knowledge that he was known as the "god­taught"; he was more than a mere eclectic; he himself attained to spiritual insight. The pupil Plotinus also shows all the signs of a student of the eastern Raja Yoga, the "kingly art" of the science of the soul." (13)


     In so far as religious thought is concerned, India's contribution to the development of Muslim mysticism is beyond doubt. That was the time when the Christian canon was taking shape, and nearer India, in Iran, the Magian Zoroastrian revival was beginning to take shape under the Sassanian dynasty. Under the second monarch of that dynasty, Shapur I, who ruled from 241 to 272 ce, we find that "The King of Kings Shapur son of Ardashir further

collected those writings of the Religion that were dispersed throughout India, the Byzantine Empire, and other lands, and which treated of medicine, astronomy, movement, time, space, substance, creation, becoming, passing away, qualitative change, logic and other arts and sciences." (14)


     It is not only that Indian works on science, mathematics, and astronomy were translated into Arabic, but also works on Indian philosophy and religion, particularly during the "Abbasid period, specially in the reigns of Al­Mansur and Harun Al­Rashid". Islamic ideas dovetailing harmoniously with Indian ones became solidified in the Sufis when "Hindu monistic pantheism developed an artistic religious symbolism and imagery for human­cum­divine love." (15)



     Western Studies of Indian Scriptures



     British archaeologists, under the leadership of Sir Flinders Petrie, excavated Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt, and discovered many statues that seem Indian in origin. Petrie concluded that these statues proved the existence of an Indian colony in ancient Egypt about 500 BCE. One of the statues is of an Indian seated cross­legged in deep meditation, like a yogi. It is surmised that ideas of asceticism, which were unknown in ancient Egypt, and what appeared in Egypt about this time must have been due to contact with Indians. (16)


     The historian John Pentland Mahaffy stated: "The Buddhist missionaries were the forerunners of the Christ. Philosophers, like Schelling and Schopenhauer, and the Christian thinkers, like Dean Mansel and D. Milman, admit that the Essene and the Therapeutaes arose through the influence of Buddhist missionaries who had come from India during the reign of Ashoka." (17) Swami Abhedananda commented that the Essenes belonged to a tantric order of India and owed their name to Ishani, the Sanskrit appellation of the tantric goddess Durga. (18)


     The Upanishads are the culmination of Vedic ideas and present a philosophy that is a bold enquiry into the nature of existence. A collection of them was translated into Persian in 1656 and into Latin in 1801. The German philosopher Schopenhauer wrote: "There is no study more beneficial and elevating to humanity than the study of the Upanishads. It has been the solace of my life and it will be the solace of my death." (19)


     The philosophy of the Upanishads was simplified and rearranged in the Bhagavadgita. The English philosopher Carlyle studied it and then recommended it to Emerson. The study of the Upanishads and the Gita was a favourite with Emerson and had a marked influence on his writings. For example, his poem "Brahm" is almost a literal translation of parts of the Gita. In his own poetic style, Thoreau, the New England thinker, writes: "What extracts from the Vedas I have read fall on me like the light of a higher and purer luminary - like the full moon after the stars have come out" (ibid.).


     Indian influence in America began with the Transcendentalists of Concord, of whom Emerson was the leader and Thoreau a devoted supporter. Emerson was the first great American who said: "I owed -a magnificent day to the Bhagavad­Gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions that exercise us." (20) After reading Manu, Thoreau said: "I cannot read a sentence in the book of the Hindoos without being elevated as upon the tableland of the Ghauts. It has such a rhythm as the winds of the desert, such a tide as the Ganges, and is as superior to criticism as the Himmaleh Mounts." (21) Leon Roth of the Hebrew University said that "India has always implied for the world at large the inward light of the spirit; and this light is more needed today because of the dark mists of scientific barbarism which seems to be closing in upon the world from all sides." (22)


     Dr. Jean Filliozat of the College de France, Paris, in his recent studies on the external cultural relations of ancient India, believes that the Upanishads had an influence on the thought of the Middle East in the first centuries of the Christian era. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan devoted several chapters of his book Eastern Religions and Western Thought to a masterly discussion of the spiritual and cultural relations between India and Greece, and India and Palestine. (23) The French Indologist Louis Renou viewed India as "the repository of the noblest spiritual tradition, the only one in the whole world which has been

alive throughout the centuries." (24)


     Dr. Kenneth Walker, the eminent English thinker, presiding over the Sri Ramakrishna Birth Anniversary meeting in London, in March 1949, said: "India, the greatest spiritual force of the world, even maintains today those fountain sources of eternal life, which are the only hope of the spiritual resurrection of humanity." (25)


     Swami Vivekananda's Views



     Referring to India's greatness Swami Vivekananda affirmed:


     If there is any land on this earth that can lay claim to be the blessed Punya Bhumi, to be the land to which all souls on this earth must come to account for Karma, the land to which every soul that is wending its way Godward must come to attain its last home, the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, above all, the land of introspection and of spirituality - it is India. Hence have started the founders of religions from the most ancient times, deluging the earth again and again with the pure and perennial waters of spiritual truth. Hence have proceeded the tidal waves of philosophy that have covered the earth, East or West, North or South, and hence again must start the wave which is going to spiritualise the material civilisation of the world. Here is the life­giving water with which must be quenched the burning fire of materialism which is burning the core of the hearts of millions in other lands. Believe me, my friends, this is going to be. (26)


     Swamiji had a vision of India and its future greatness: "Study the history of the whole world, and you will see that every high ideal you meet with

anywhere had its origin in India. From time immemorial India has been the mine of precious ideas to human society; giving birth to high ideas herself, she has freely distributed them broadcast over the whole world. The English are in India today, to gather those higher ideals, to acquire a knowledge of the Vedanta, to penetrate into the deep mysteries of that eternal religion which is yours" (5.355).


     Will Durant, the eminent American thinker and historian, in his book The Case for India, published in 1931 but banned by the British Government of India, almost echoes Swamiji's words:


     India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self­government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all. Nothing should more deeply shame the modern student than the recency and inadequacy of his acquaintance with India. ... This is the India that patient scholarship is now opening up like a new intellectual continent to that Western mind which only yesterday thought civilization an exclusive Western thing. (27)





     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 3.171.


     2. Quoted in Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004), 222-3.


     3. See Edward Johns Urwick, The Message of Plato: A Re-interpretation of the Republic (London: Methuen, 1920), 183.


     4. See Richard Garbe, The Philosophy of Ancient India (Illinois: The Open Court, 1897), 37.


     5. See Sisir Kumar Mitra, Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture Abroad (Bombay: Jaico, 1968), 2.


     6. See Sisir Kumar Mitra, India: The Mother of Mankind (Chennai: Vivekananda Kendra, 1890), 2.


     7. See Paullina Remes, Neoplatonism (California: University of California, 2008), 19.


     8. Anthology of Mysticism and Mystical Philosophy, ed. William Kingsland (London: Methuen, 1927), 6.


     9. Quoted in Romain Rolland, The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel, (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2012), 295-6.


     10. Sailendra Nath Sen, Ancient Indian History and Civilization (New Delhi: New Age, 1999), 505.


     11. Swami Ranganathananda, The Universal Symphony of Swami Vivekananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2003), 103.


     12. See Sisir Kumar Mitra, India's Evolution: Its Meaning (New Delhi: Jaico, 1968), 4.


     13. Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, March-August 1895, eds H. P. Blavatsky and Annie Besant (Montana: Kessinger, 2003), 97.


     14. Sir Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch, 3 vols (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), 3.444-5


     15. B M Pande, Indian Religions and the West: Historical Perspective (Madras: Vivekananda Rock Memorial Committee, 1970), 620.


     16. See Santosh Kumar Ray, "India's Contribution to World Civilisation", The Modern Review, 83/3 (March 1948), 229.


     17. N L Gupta, An Introduction to Eastern Ways of Thinking (New Delhi: Concept, 2003), 16.


     18. See India: The Mother of Mankind, 5.


     19. Quoted in Prof. V Kumar Murthy, "Contributions of the Indian Subcontinent to Civilization", Prabuddha Bharata, 100/1 (January 1995), 134.


     20. Quoted in Swami Shivaprasadananda, "A Friend in the Gita", Prabuddha Bharata, 97/7 ( July 1992), 300.


     21. Carl T Jackson, Vedanta for the West: The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States (Indiana: Indiana University, 1994), 9.


     22. Quoted in India's Evolution: Its Meaning, 21.


     23. See The Universal Symphony of Swami Vivekananda, 104.


     24. Quoted in India: The Mother of Mankind, 8.


     25. Quoted in Har Nagendra Singh, Contribution of S Radhakrishnan to Indian Religious Thought (Patna: Bihar Granth Kuti, 1979), 19.


     26. Complete Works, 3.105.


     27. Quoted in Stephen Knapp, The Power of the Dharma: An Introduction to Hinduism and Vedic Culture (Nebraska: iUniverse, 2006), 11.













International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015

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