Wednesday, September 12, 2007

His words are alive in his works and one can read and listen to his voice

A Rishi’s Integral Vision of Society by RY Deshpande
The tradition of dialogue to discuss and elucidate important issues dates as far back as ancient civilisations. The Greek philosophers would walk with their students in the academy and, through questions and answers, formulate their ideas on philosophical, social, political, ethical, literary and scientific matters. These peripatetic teachers have left behind them perennial systems of thought and wisdom that are as fresh, as living as they were in their own great times. Symposia belong to the same classical spirit of active interaction between several propounders and thinkers. The Greek drama itself is an excellent example of multi-ranging and wide simultaneous thinking, at once taking care of many conflicting viewpoints in the statement and resolution of secular issues, issues of concern to men and society and the state.
In India, of yore, there was the teacher-disciple or Guru-Shishya relationship for imparting esoteric knowledge to the chosen and the fit, the initiate. In the Upanishads we have any number of such instances. Thus was the young Bhrigu taught about the fivefold Brahman by his father Varuna; the boy Nachiketas learnt about death from Yama himself; Rishi Pippalada gave the Knowledge of the supreme Spirit to the seekers who had approached him with due reverence and preparation. Similarly, the whole of Bhagavad Gita with all its luminous spirituo-metaphysical contents is in the nature of a dialogue between the divine Teacher and the human disciple standing on the battlefield of life, kŗşņārjuna samvāda. In fact, Vyasa adopted the technique of such discussions to narrate the entire Mahabharata. The merit of the technique is always to bring into focus the fundamental issues of concern and give to them straight and immediate answers, leaving no ambiguity of any sort, nor any scope for parenthetical statements that otherwise tend to distract the attention, statements that can be long-winding.
In our own times we have professional seminars, workshops, colloquia, panel discussions, rendezvous, conferences, Internet video-sessions, even blogs or web discussions within or among groups, and similar such modes of meeting and exchange of ideas. We are reminded here of a well-documented interview between the famous historian Arnold Toynbee and his son Philip Toynbee, himself a literary and creative writer, they spanning not too long ago two generations of upbringing and thinking, they coming together and talking about the present-day civilisation, about earlier cultures, religion, the arts, and the newer sciences. The technique of introducing a great contemporary or presenting his works through a dialogue is a modern innovation and has the advantage of putting forward a brief and pointed argument rather than labouring through full-length biographies or treatises on difficult and abstruse topics. Thus in Comparing Notes: a dialogue across a generation there is a passage as follows:

Philip Toynbee: If you try to believe in a God who is both good and omnipotent, the problem of absolutely superfluous suffering, gratuitous suffering, is a real one, isn’t it?

Arnold Toynbee: Oh, it is. I have thought quite a lot about it and I admire Indian religion and philosophy for grasping that nettle. I think Christianity has always tried to evade the problem. It has made the Devil responsible -- saving God’s omnipotence by saying He created the Devil, and yet that He isn’t responsible for the thing He created. Now the Indians say that God is evil as well as good because He is omnipotent and He includes everything. In the Bhagavadgita there’s that terrifying vision of Krishna as a sort of trampling monster, grinding everything to bits with his gnashing teeth.

On this point of omnipotence and goodness, the comprehensiveness, the catholicity, of Indian religion have made a great impression on me, and I feel very much in sympathy with it. I feel that this is the kind of religion that is needed for our times.

The informality of a discussion of this kind avoids all ponderous considerations of scholarship and forthwith puts us in touch with the truth perceived and realised by the speaker, with his life-matured convictions standing behind it. The mode makes the idea immediately graspable.
N.B.: Author's (RYD"s) Foreword to Freedom and Future—an Imaginary Dialogue with Sri Aurobindo by Daniel Albuquerque, published in 1998 by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. Print Article Keywords: IntegralYoga, India, History, Culture 5:38 PM

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