East and West

East is East and West is West, and never shall the twain meet – Rudyard Kipling

The West looks outward, it is an expression of extroverted consciousness. It is the world of scientific knowledge, of the great technological advancements, of the great political upheavals. The religion of the West is of an external God who creates, governs, rules and loves. Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ is a Western piece of art that typifies the Western psyche– it is, outwardly, the most precise work of art one can imagine. The likeness to a real human body is present to the highest degree. Taken to its extreme, the West becomes what one sees so often in modern life – rabid individualism, excessive demands for rights, capitalism, and so on.

The East looks inward, it is an expression of introverted consciousness. It is the world of the interior life, contemplation, the various subtle meditative techniques of inner development. The religion of the East is of an inner principle that lies beneath the several layers of the psyche. The Gandhara Buddha is the piece of art that typifies this  mentality– the outer shape and contours are not precisely life-like but only sufficiently real. But the power of the sculpture lies in the immense sense of calm and equanimity that is conveyed. Art, in the East, focuses on the revelation of an inner state even at the expense of realism. Taken to its extreme, the East may degenerate into a certain attitude that one may often see in India. Negligence towards material development and hygiene,  acceptance of sub-standard situations, and inability to strictly follow rules and to be on time.

The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung talked about the integration of extroversion and introversion to be one of the goals of human life. The best introverted mind looks at the life within, where it finds psychological impulses and profound metaphysical truths. The best extroverted mind looks at the outer aspects of life and tries to change them to create a world that is easier to live in, that has greater facilities, rules and systems of governance. One without the other is doomed to frustration and unhappiness. The combination of the two creates a civilisation that helps carve out the best from man and is inspired by the deepest yearnings of the human psyche.

The world of scholarship also sees this division. Western scholarship is precise, to-the-point, concerned about specific points that are analysed systematically, dissected to the fullest and presented in a painstakingly-organised manner. Eastern scholarship, traditionally, works on intuitive understanding, and experiential interpretations which may carry great insights, but are rarely as well structured and as logically argued as Western scholarship. There is a reason why India has over 200 universities, but only one of them is counted in the top 500 universities of the world. The reason is that the Indian university system, a copy of the British university system, imposes on the Eastern mind a style of scholarship that is Western. Obviously, one is going to have programmes that are unrealistically broad, lectures that are uselessly descriptive and a university culture that promotes little critical thinking.

The same applies to the many shortcomings that India has had in its development. Corrupt politicians rule because the idea of democracy is a product of the Western mind that is shaped by individualism. When the voters think not as individuals but members of a group based on caste, religion, region, or anything else, then the  ideals of democracy – having an accountable, transparent ruling class – are defeated.

The development from an introverted consciousness to an extroverted consciousness is a gradual one that must take place organically, that is, within the system. When systems of an extroverted world are imposed on cultures with an introverted consciousness, chaos results, as we see in the examples of the universities and of democracy. We also see it in the fact that more people, proportionately, die because of bad driving in India than in any other country.

When introverted consciousness is imposed on extroverted consciousness, there is disaster again. This is the terrible disaster of new-age spirituality which tries to adopt meditation techniques, bodywork and philosophical ideas from the East and imposes it on modern people, whether in the West or in the East. The result is a hopelessly shallow spirituality, where yoga becomes a matter of sweating it out with a few stretches, mantra becomes a matter of chanting something a hundred times for a wish to come true and everyone says “I’m spiritual but not religious!”

One must say in the end that there are doubtlessly exceptions. There are great scholars in India who excel at the Western style of scholarship. There are also sincere meditation and yoga practitioners in the West who have a deep understanding of Eastern spirituality. So, we disagree with Kipling that the twain shall never meet. However, this is a difference that one is to be aware of and reflect on.

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~ by tdcatss on January 8, 2010.

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