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What Makes India Different?

First published in 1996 when he was eighty-eight years old, The Meaning of India is a selection of nearly six decades of Raja Rao’s non-fiction. It is an audacious contemplation on the deeper significance of India. A combination of fables, journeys, discussions and meditations, the book advances the view that India is not just a geographical entity, or even a civilization-state. India is, above all, a metaphysic, a way of being and regarding the self and the world.

Read an excerpt from the book below:

In  The  Meaning  of  India,  Raja  Rao  declares,  ‘India  is  not  a  country  (desa);  it  is  a  perspective  (darsana).’  The  word  ‘darsana’, incidentally,  is  the  Hindu  word  for  philosophy;  it  means  seeing,  experience,  vision,  perception,  standpoint,  insight  and  outlook.  But  what  darsanadoes  India  embody?  Absolute, non-dual consciousness, according to Rao. Even if there  was  no  India  in  a  physical,  material  sense,  India  as  an  idea would always exist. As Rao puts it, ‘India has no enemies. She only has adversaries’ , and she ‘has to turn defeat into victory’.

The  entire  universe,  sentient  and  non-sentient,  in  its  own infinitely rich and diverse ways, also seeks the Absolute. That, I think, is what the Buddha meant when he said that the whole universe is on fire: ‘“What does not disappear does not  exist.”  For  every  sense  perception  is  afire.  “Look,  the  universe is burning!”’ Again, to quote Rao, “There can be  no  world  without  duality,  yet  there  can  be  no  peace  in  duality.’ Duality is primordial unhappiness. That is why everything  that  exists  experiences  this  dukkha, which  is  the  very essence of duality. Duality, two-ness, implies separation from  the  source.  Whatever  has  individuality  is  therefore  separated, ego-bound, vibhakt (divided), and therefore seeks self-transcendence—in  dissolution  or  union—as  the  means  to regain its lost wholeness.

But if everyone and everything seeks the same ‘thing’ that India seeks, what makes her different?

The  difference  is  that  it  is  in  India  where  this  seeking  has  become  self-conscious,  reiterated  generation  after  generation,  down the centuries. Not just that, one might even say that India has not only sought but found the Absolute. There is a prevalent Buddhist belief that if the world is to be saved from destruction, the  inspiration  for  the  radical  transformation  in  consciousness  must come from India.

Rao also states this position quite unequivocally:

There are, it seems to me, only two possible perspectives on human  understanding:  the  horizontal  and  (or)  the  vertical.  They  could  also  be  named  the  anthropomorphic  and  the  abhuman. The vertical movement is the sheer upward thrust towards the unnamable, the unutterable, the very source of wholeness. The horizontal is the human condition expressing itself,  in  terms  of  concern  for  man  as  one’s  neighbour—biological  and  social,  the  predicament  of  one  who  knows  how to say, I and you.

The  vertical  rises  slowly,  desperately,  to  move  from  the I to the non-I, as non-dual Vedanta would say. It is the move towards the impersonal, the universal (though there is no universe there, so to say) reaching out to ultimate being, where there are no two entities, no you and I.

The horizontal again, on its long, arduous and confused pathways, will reach the same ultimacy by stripping the I of its  many  vestments,  through  concern  and  compassion  for  the other . . .The vertical then is the inherent reality in the horizontal . . . (139–140)

Or again:

There  are  only  two  pathways  to  looking  at  the  world:  the  causal  way  or  the  unpredictable:  or  to  use  my  metaphor  .  .  .  the  horizontal  or  the  vertical  .  .  .  In  the  context  of  Indian  philosophy, we could say, either there is duality or non-duality.(194)

Rao,  using  a  method  akin  to  scientific  reductionism,  ensures  that the crux of the matter boils down to one contest—between duality and non-duality.

For  him,  ‘There  are  indeed  no  horizontal  solutions,  the human  has  no  answer  ever.’  Locating  this  contrast  in  a  trans-civilizational dialogue with André Malraux, Rao quotes the latter as saying, ‘You remember what Dostoevsky said: Europe is a cemetery of ideas—yes, we cannot go beyond good and evil. We can never go, as the Indians can, beyond duality.’

Excerpted with permission from the “Introduction to the New Edition”, written by Makarand Paranjape.


The Meaning of India is available now.

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