Western Construction of Hindu Civilisation

Hindu- One or more successive civilizations, it is universally recognized, have existed on the Subcontinent since at least 1500 B.C. These are generally referred to as Indian, Indic, or Hindu, with the latter term being preferred for the most recent civilization. In one form or another, Hinduism has been central to the culture of the Subcontinent since the second millennium B.C. “More than a religion or a social system; it is the core of Indian civilization.” It has continued in this role through modern times, even though India itself has a substantial Muslim community as well as several smaller cultural minorities. Like Sinic, the term Hindu also separates the name of the civilization from the name of its core state, which is desirable when, as in these cases, the culture of the civilization extends beyond that state. [The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington 2011.]

Indigenization– Indigenization has been the order of the day throughout the non-Western world in the 1980s and 1990s. The resurgence of Islam and “re-Islamization” are the central themes in Muslim societies. In India the prevailing trend is the rejection of Western forms and values and the “Hinduization” of politics and society. In East Asia, governments are promoting Confucianism, and political and intellectual leaders speak of the “Asianization” of their countries. In the mid-1980s Japan became obsessed with “Nihonjinron or the theory of Japan and the Japanese.” Subsequently a leading Japanese intellectual argued that historically Japan has gone through “cycles of importation of external cultures” and “ ‘indigenization’ of those cultures through replication and refinement, inevitable turmoil resulting from exhausting the imported and creative impulse, and eventual reopening to the outside world.” [The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington 2011.]

Religion- Religion is a central defining characteristic of civilizations, and, as Christopher Dawson said, “the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest.” Of Weber’s five “world religions,” four—Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism—are associated with major civilizations. The fifth, Buddhism, is not. Why is this the case? Like Islam and Christianity, Buddhism early separated into two main subdivisions, and, like Christianity, it did not survive in the land of its birth. Beginning in the first century A.D., Mahayana Buddhism was exported to China and subsequently to Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. In these societies, Buddhism was variously adapted, assimilated to the indigenous culture (in China, for example, to Confucianism and Taoism), and suppressed. Hence, while Buddhism remains an important component of their cultures, these societies do not constitute and would not identify themselves as part of a Buddhist civilization. What can legitimately be described as a Therevada Buddhist civilization, however, does exist in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. In addition, the populations of Tibet, Mongolia, and Bhutan have historically subscribed to the Lamaist variant of Mahayana Buddhism, and these societies constitute a second area of Buddhist civilization. Overall, however, the virtual extinction of Buddhism in India and its adaptation and incorporation into existing cultures in China and Japan mean that Buddhism, although a major religion, has not been the basis of a major civilization. [The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington 2011].

India- In Japan, the impetus of Western intrusion changed the course of a historic nation; in India it reshaped a great civilization into a modern state. India has long developed its qualities at the intersection of world orders, shaping and being shaped by their rhythms. It has been defined less by its political borders than by a shared spectrum of cultural traditions. No mythic founder has been credited with promulgating the Hindu tradition, India’s majority faith and the wellspring of several others. History has traced its evolution, dimly and incompletely, through a synthesis of traditional hymns, legends, and rituals from cultures along the Indus and Ganges rivers and plateaus and uplands north and west. In the Hindu tradition, however, these specific forms were the diverse articulations of underlying principles that predated any written text. In its diversity and resistance to definition— encompassing distinct gods and philosophical traditions, the analogues of which would likely have been defined as separate religions in Europe—Hinduism was said to approximate and prove the ultimate oneness of manifold creation, reflecting “the long and diversified history of man’s quest for reality … at once all-embracing and infinite.” When united—as during the fourth through second centuries B.C. and the fourth through seventh centuries A.D.—India generated currents of vast cultural influence: Buddhism spread from India to Burma, Ceylon, China, and Indonesia, and Hindu art and statecraft influenced Thailand, Indochina, and beyond. When divided—as it often was—into competing kingdoms, India was a lure for invaders, traders, and spiritual seekers (some fulfilling multiple roles at once, such as the Portuguese, who arrived in 1498 “in search of Christians and spices”), whose depredations it endured and whose cultures it eventually absorbed and mixed with its own. [Henry Kissinger WORLD ORDER-2014]

World order– World order in Hindu cosmology was governed by immutable cycles of an almost inconceivably vast scale—millions of years long. Kingdoms would fall, and the universe would be destroyed, but it would be re-created, and new kingdoms would rise again. When each wave of invaders arrived (Persians in the sixth century B.C.; Alexander and his Bactrian Greeks in the fourth century B.C.; Arabs in the eighth century; Turks and Afghans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Mongols in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; Mughals in the sixteenth century; and various European nations following shortly after), they were fitted into this timeless matrix. Their efforts might disrupt, but measured against the perspective of the infinite, they were irrelevant. The true nature of human experience was known only to those who endured and transcended these temporal upheavals.  [Henry Kissinger WORLD ORDER-2014]

Bhagavad Gita- The Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita framed these spirited tests in terms of the relationship between morality and power. The work, an episode within the Mahabharata (the ancient Sanskrit epic poem sometimes likened in its influence to the Bible or the Homeric epics), takes the form of a dialogue between the warrior-prince Arjuna and his charioteer, a manifestation of the god Lord Krishna. Arjuna, “overwhelmed by sorrow” on the eve of battle at the horrors he is about to unleash, wonders what can justify the terrible consequences of war. This is the wrong question, Krishna rejoins. Because life is eternal and cyclical and the essence of the universe is indestructible, “the wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. There has never been a time when you and I and the kings gathered here have not existed, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist.” Redemption will come through the fulfillment of a preassigned duty, paired with a recognition that its outward manifestations are illusory because “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” Arjuna, a warrior, has been presented with a war he did not seek. He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honor, and must strive to kill and prevail and “should not grieve.” While Lord Krishna’s appeal to duty prevails and Arjuna professes himself freed from doubt, the cataclysms of the war—described in detail in the rest of the epic—add resonance to his earlier qualms. This central work of Hindu thought embodied both an exhortation to war and the importance not so much of avoiding but of transcending it. Morality was not rejected, but in any given situation the immediate considerations were dominant, while eternity provided a curative perspective. [Henry Kissinger WORLD ORDER-2014]

Kautilya and Dharma-  Against the background of the eternal verities of a religion preaching the elusiveness of any single earthly endeavor, the temporal ruler was in fact afforded a wide berth for practical necessities. The pioneering exemplar of this school was the fourth-century B.C. minister Kautilya, credited with engineering the rise of India’s Maurya Dynasty, which expelled Alexander the Great’s successors from northern India and unified the subcontinent for the first time under a single rule. Kautilya wrote about an India comparable in structure to Europe before the Peace of Westphalia. He describes a collection of states potentially in permanent conflict with each other. Like Machiavelli’s, his is an analysis of the world as he found it; it offers a practical, not a normative, guide to action. And its moral basis is identical with that of Richelieu, who lived nearly two thousand years later: the state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint. Tradition holds that at some point during or after completing his endeavors, Kautilya recorded the strategic and foreign policy practices he had observed in a comprehensive manual of statecraft, the Arthashastra. This work sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbors. The Arthashastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation. For Kautilya, power was the dominant reality. It was multidimensional, and its factors were interdependent. All elements in a given situation were relevant, calculable, and amenable to manipulation toward a leader’s strategic aims. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage, law, agriculture, cultural traditions, morale and popular opinion, rumors and legends, and men’s vices and weaknesses needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm—much as a modern orchestra conductor shapes the instruments in his charge into a coherent tune. It was a combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz. Millennia before European thinkers translated their facts on the ground into a theory of balance of power, the Arthashastra set out an analogous, if more elaborate, system termed the “circle of states.” Contiguous polities, in Kautilya’s analysis, existed in a state of latent hostility. Whatever professions of amity he might make, any ruler whose power grew significantly would eventually find that it was in his interest to subvert his neighbor’s realm. This was an inherent dynamic of self-preservation to which morality was irrelevant. Much like Frederick the Great two thousand years later, Kautilya concluded that the ruthless logic of competition allowed no deviation: “The conqueror shall [always] endeavor to add to his own power and increase his own happiness.” The imperative was clear: “If … the conqueror is superior, the campaign shall be undertaken; otherwise not.”
European theorists proclaimed the balance of power as a goal of foreign policy and envisaged a world order based on the equilibrium of states. In the Arthashastra, the purpose of strategy was to conquer all other states and to overcome such equilibrium as existed on the road to victory. In that respect, Kautilya was more comparable to Napoleon and Qin Shi Huang (the Emperor who unified China) than to Machiavelli. In Kautilya’s view, states had an obligation to pursue self-interest even more than glory. The wise ruler would seek his allies from among his neighbors’ neighbors. To be sure, Kautilya insisted that the purpose of the ruthlessness was to build a harmonious universal empire and uphold the dharma—the timeless moral order whose principles were handed down by the gods. But the appeal to morality and religion was more in the name of practical operational purposes than of principle in its own right—as elements of a conqueror’s strategy and tactics, not imperatives of a unifying concept of order. The Arthashastra advised that restrained and humanitarian conduct was under most circumstances strategically useful: a king who abused his subjects would forfeit their support and would be vulnerable to rebellion or invasion; a conqueror who needlessly violated a subdued people’s customs or moral sensibilities risked catalyzing resistance.[Henry Kissinger WORLD ORDER-2014] 


Mukherji, R. (1989) Hindu Civilisation, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan


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