The vitality of a culture lasts only so long as the best men in the dominant minority of each generation find self-fulfilment by living up to its fundamental values afresh.
by Dr. K. M. Munshi
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Culture is not just character or morality. Character is the inside of a man. Culture is external rather than internal. Culture has more to do with behaviour and way of living than with character.
by C. Rajagopalachari
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Our culture is not a composite bundle of different ways nor a regimented unity. It is a synthesis reaching new levels of equilibrium under the unifying influence of certain fundamental values.
by Dr. K. M. Munshi
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OUR CULTURE

Culture is not just character or morality. Character is the inside of a man. Culture is external rather than internal. Culture has more to do with behaviour and way of living than with character.

Culture on which I shall attempt to say something is the sum-total of the way of living built up by groups of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another. People each with their own long history build up separate patterns of cultures. There is much that is common, but also a great deal that is particular to each nation.

Culture is not just character or morality. Character is the inside of a man. Culture is external rather than internal. Culture has more to do with behaviour and way of living than with character. Broadly speaking, culture is external though of course it has much to do with character too. Because, the outside has always much to do with the inside.

Man has the power to derive pleasure from the senses. The senses have certain functions to perform which are necessary for life. But they are the springs of physical pleasure also. Like all power, this power that the senses endow man with tends to corrupt him. The human animal unlike his brothers in the dumb world is inclined to overdo the use of his senses under the influence of the pleasures derived therefrom. Civilization seeks to curb this tendency and put it down. Civilization in the true sense of the word is the development of restraint. The consensus of society, the total combined will of the people living together, seeks to curb the individual's tendency to overdo the use of his senses. This is the difference between civilization and barbarism. Civilization has two instruments to achieve the object of curbing the sensual instincts and preventing or deterring over-indulgence. One instrument is Government, which is an essential part of all civilization, and which works externally. Excesses of all kinds are brought under the penal laws. Men submit to these penal laws or they are kept apart from society by excommunication as in the old days, or by confinement within prison walls. The other instrument of civilization is culture - which acts through family training, tradition, religious belief, literature and education. Culture puts down over-indulgence acting as an internal force, as distinguished from penal laws which operate from outside. Where it fails, it acts through social obloquy and, in very bad cases, through social ostracism.

Government and laws use physical force and compel people to restrain themselves. Culture is a subtle instrument. It acts silently. It makes people feel they are not forced to obey, but do it of their own free will and gives them a sense of pride in good behaviour. When any one acts contrary to the general wish and falls much below standard, the others look down upon him, shun him or otherwise make him feel that he is not liked. We all know how strong this sanction is; often it corrects where force does not correct. Force generates a reaction of obstinacy. But the subtle forms of the displeasure of society are very effective, as they give a chance to the culprit to improve without a confession of guilt. They do not generate obstinacy. Indeed, it may be truly said that culture is the habit of successful self-control; and that nothing that reduces self-control or which does not help self-control is culture. Culture and character, as I have already explained, are not the same thing, though, of course, there is no harm in occasionally confusing one with the other and using the two terms loosely and giving to culture the same importance as to character. The peel encloses the fruit. The orange or the banana peel carries a delicate variation of the quality of the fruit enclosed within it. Often, the aromatic smell of the peel is even more pleasant than the inside of the fruit. Cultured behaviour is often more pleasant than even solid virtue. Culture is a social virtue and therefore comes to notice and pleases more clearly then virtue. Peel and fruit grow together from tiny beginnings to the ripe state. So also do character and culture, the mind inside and the external activities, conduct and behaviour, grow together. Culture would be hypocrisy if the inner character does not correspond to it. And hypocrisy is not culture. It is the opposite of it.

Humility is an essential part of true culture-vidyaa vinaya sampanne braahmane (Gita V 18). Vidya and vinaya, knowledge and humility, together form the sampat, wealth, for the Braahmana. Without humility there is no culture. A boastful man is wanting in culture. Humility should be honest and shown in behaviour and action and not expressed merely in words. It results from innate consideration and respect for others and a sense of true values. The humility of the cultured man is more likely to be near the actual truth than the self-estimate of the boastful man even if he be a gifted person. Humility is not the humility of Uriah Heep, but what makes the other man feel easy with you though you may be definitely superior to him.

What makes community-life pleasant, what adds to joy in life, over and above feeding and clothing the body and satisfying the appetites-all these together make up culture.
Meanness, dishonesty, cruelty: the avoidance of these three vices make culture.
Do not be mean: be noble, be large-hearted.
Do not be false: be honest always and in everything; detest dishonesty, keep away from it as from offal.
Do not be cruel: show tenderness to every being that is weaker than yourself. Every living thing loves its own life and is sensitive to pain as you yourself are. Every being, be it dog or child or girl or man or woman, is sensitive to pain; be tender to them all. If you are mean, false, or cruel, everyone will know it and know you are not a cultured man or woman.
Do unto others as you would be done by: (sanskrit word). This is the essence of culture in word and action.

The cultured man avoids harsh words. The soft word is what definitely marks a man as cultured. Tiruvalluvar, the Tamil saint-poet, in his world-famous Kural says:

It is strange indeed that people speak harsh words when they have themselves felt and experienced the joy that the kindly speech of others begets in them. Every moment we have direct personal experience of the marvellous effect of kind words from others. Yet when we speak ourselves, we forget it and indulge in harsh speech.

Man attains completion only when culture is added to what he has acquired for fulfilling his wants for the physical body and for satisfying his thirst for knowledge.

The culture of a people is what is desired and expected by the best among the people, actually to prevail and govern their daily life. It is what the people accept as a practicable standard of conduct and deportment, which men and women would claim they are acting up to and which they would be ashamed to admit as having disregarded.

Another remark I should like to make is that since culture has a general as well as a particular sense; the difference between one pattern and the others make be taken by some, not as its distinguishing feature giving it its individual character, but as merely the result of impeded growth; the idea being that all proceed under the pressure of truth and human desires to reach the same ideal and make progress in the same direction, but that some get stunted, not by choice but by reason of unwelcome circumstances. For example, if a national culture is marked by simplicity, we may put it down either as just impeded development, progress having been stopped by historic causes, or as a deliberately adopted ideal. I am inclined to the view that so far as India is concerned, where we find simplicity in the pattern of our culture, it is not mere stunted development, but deliberate preference for simplicity and a conscious rejection of the complicate life and multiplication of wants, this being consistent with the philosophy and ethical code of our people.

Indian culture is predominantly self-restraint: sharing your substance with the poor, chastity, austerity, sanyas, all-round religious tolerance,--these forms and aspects of restraint make up Indian culture.

The pattern of behaviour prevailing and recognized as good in our motherland as distinguished from what prevails among other people may be called Desha dharma. Desha dharma is an organic growth which it is our duty to respect and which we should not treat as mere Indian superstition or under-development or eccentricity. It is the distinctive feature of life in India, whatever political or other changes might have occurred or may occur in the course of history. The national pattern of behaviour, our Desha dharma, may be looked at as seen in the family, as seen the caste or jaati, as seen in the region, a unit holding different castes supplementing each other's occupation, and as seen in the larger community called the nation.

The family in India is not just man, wife, and minor children. It includes very grown up sons, and their wives, grandsons and great grandsons. It consists consequently of numerous cousins and their wives and children. The word for a near cousin in our languages is 'brother.' There may be varying degrees of affection among them or even the opposite of affection. But the obligations imposed by family Dharma are binding, and demand fulfilment over this wide circle; and failure brings about social obloquy and self-accusation. Self-accusation and shame are the acid tests of what is the prevailing culture and pattern of conduct.

Our marriages are entered into and arranged very differently from what is done in Western countries. Changes are inevitable in this as in other matters as a result of international contacts and economic compulsions, but the basic pattern is still there. Marriage is not an affair of the individuals. It is a family affair and very much that. Its rituals if vernacularised would indicate only a contract. But it is an inviolable contract of partnership. Inviolability is indeed its chief characteristic.

Now we come to the most important element in the organization of our society. It is not a single jump in India from the family to the nation. We have in between, the community or the jaati. The jaati is a larger family circle. The obligations of mutual help and respect are real though necessarily thinned out by reason of extension over a wider circle. The principle is that one's duties do not end with one's wife and children; it does not end with son and father, grandfather and cousins. It extends to the members of the jaati, to all those who 'belong' to one, as being in his group of potential relatives, though there may be no traced or traceable blood connexion. It is not just an artificial extension. It is a circle which includes likely relationship through marriage. It is associated with a very real sense of identity and mutual liability. Individualism, neglectful of the wants of others in the community, is treated not merely as selfishness, but as something allied to a father's neglect of his son or refusing to share in his misfortunes and difficulties. Failing to be helpful to members of the large joint family circle or to members of one's community is treated as a very base form of selfishness.

India had probably the largest number and very big time-lengths of intervals between one effective government and another. There have been a great many periods during which the people had neither central nor regional governments exercising effective authority. All these periods of what may be called a no-government condition could not possibly have been tided over but for the self-restraints imposed by our culture, the joint family, and the jaati discipline. Not only was order maintained, but trade and arts flourished, the fine arts as well as the common artisans' work so essential for life. The absence of government made no great difference. A mere figurehead of a king was enough to do duty. Sometimes even that was not found necessary. Philosophy was not neglected, public health maintained itself tolerably well under the caste discipline, contracts were entered into and fulfilled and property was respected and was at least not so insecure as it was in other countries during similar periods of anarchy. Life depends on property, contracts and security of possessions. All this was managed by culture wherever and whenever there was no law in the Austinian sense. Charities were founded, and markets and business went on, whether there was any government or not. The people did not move about in nomadic confusion because there was no ruler or government to maintain order. The family and the caste were firm anchors and the ship of society survived and was able to go on in spite of the absence of effective governments during long and repeated periods. The nation did not break up, but held together by reason of the castes and the joint families and the dharma of the nation. There was at all levels something that held people together in good behaviour-the kula dharma, the jaati dharma and Bhaarata dharma. Culture not only made life fuller; but in India, during many long periods of anarchy, it did duty for kings and officers who vacated their posts.

I do not believe culture managed affairs on such a vast and effective scale among any other people in the world and through such long periods of government-less civilization. The question may be asked whether it is not good that the old pattern of family and community discipline operating through culture has been largely substituted by state discipline. We may have an ideological opinion on the subject as well as a realistic view, and these may differ from each other. The tyranny of the community may by some be considered worse than that imposed by any form of state control. The opposite opinion may be held by others. But realistically the answer would depend on what sort of people make up what is called the state. One argument is always in favour of cultural control. It is exercised by people who know much more about you and much more intimately, than the state bureaucracy can ever know. They are people who can make necessary distinctions and exceptions. There is more flexibility associated with that discipline than even judge-controlled executive authority. More on this subject may take us to current politics and may be left to people to develop in their own reflective minds.

If there is any honesty in India today, any hospitality, any chastity, any philanthropy, any tenderness to the dumb creatures, any aversion to evil, any love to do good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture. Modern ideas and education have done their best to caricature and stifle these emotions and substitute materialism and selfishness for them all.

The doctrines of karma and transmigration have tremendously infused into and shaped Indian culture and even today the influence is alive and active. The good as well as the bad points in our way of life can almost all be traced to this belief in the doctrines of transmigration and the inescapable reaping of the fruits of karma through new births if not at once. Again the philosophical teaching by which people are brought up from childhood in the faith that God resides in the heart of every living being, cannot but have an effect on the attitude of men towards the dumb animals. To add to this, the Divine is offered for worship in various forms not always restricted to the human form in the avatars of mythology and in the temples. The very multiplicity of our pantheon adds to this broad approach towards beings animate and inanimate. If we keep in mind the truth that God resides in and gives its being to everything in this universe, Isaavaasyam idam sarvam yat kincha jagatyaam jagat, polytheism is not a stage of superstitious worship, but a perfectly reasonable form of worship.

Marriage is a life-partnership. Divorce and separation are looked upon with great disfavour. Even if separation be sometimes considered reasonable under circumstances compelling it, the second marriage of a divorced wife is most rare.
The ritualistic side of Hindu religion insists on the female as absolutely necessary to complete the image of the Divine. Every deity has a female counterpart and the worship of the goddesses is an important part of Hindu religion. The highest flights of Advaitic philosophy are associated with Sri Sankaracharya. But there are no more fervent hymns than Sri Sankara's hymns to the Divine Mother in all Her forms. This aspect of Hindu religious practice has a great impact on the status of women in Hindu culture. It is this that gives all the dignity and importance to women in Hindu society notwithstanding the definitely subordinate status allotted to them in formal and external practice.

The shape of the living houses of the mass of our people with their street pent-houses, 'pials' as these open verandahs are called, is the visible embodiment of the religious duty of providing shelter to the wayfarer. We can see here the difference between the older house models and the present-day houses with fortifications against trespassers. Whatever the size may be, large or small, there is a place for worship in every house and it is near the kitchen, because all food is first consecrated by being offered to the Deity and then received by the members of the family as a gift from God.

Indian mythology, Indian religious rites, and Indian philosophy-these are all intertwined-can be recognized in every part of our culture, just as on the other hand, our way of life can be seen showing itself in all our philosophy, religious rites and mythology. No one can tell which was the cause and which the consequence. Our music is, practically all of it, religion, philosophy and prayer. Even the few erotic pieces in vogue are given a religious interpretation. So also our dances. Our beggars go begging, singing religious songs and deep philosophy, telling the people how to live. Nothing illustrates our culture so well as the songs of our vagrants and beggars.

In spite of the revolutionary changes brought about by the modern school system, the caste culture, which is essentially occupational, still prevails; and the parents' profession is handed down to the children. The arts and professions vital to national life are still hereditary. Family training does that for which technical schools are relied upon in other countries. The customs that restrict marriages to be within one's caste make wife and husband come from the same group in relation to handicraft. This makes the family a complete school-centre and men and women and children work together in each craft. This provides certainty of calling as well as early training for the millions of our people. The new technical schools are indeed of no real significance if we take the numbers involved into account. If national life depended on these technical schools and there were no caste occupations, our people would have to go without the necessaries of civilized life.

It is true that among the people of India, there is a great deal of selfishness, materialism, terrible attachment to life, sordid love of wealth and anything but philosophy or vedanta or realization of the fleeting character of worldly things which are so greatly emphasized in our shastras. These vices do unfortunately prevail in spite of all the philosophy and all the proverbs and sayings current in such abundant measure in our country. All the same, these high ideals do characteristically show up in our culture. The imprints have faded but not quite gone. Even if the doctrines of Maaya and Vedaanta are but very vaguely impressed in our actual way of life, Rama and Sita and Bharata can be seen and felt in all the facets of our culture and in the daily lives of our people, especially in the lives of our unlettered folk. The new education that has invaded our culture has largely wiped out the old pattern, but has not wholly completed the effacement. And there never has been a lack of reaction and healthy restoration from time to time, coming up in order to keep the old pattern of behaviour from being lost altogether. From among our millions suddenly comes up some one who gives a new lease of life to religion and philosophy among our people.

The widespread and still quite current belief in re-birth gives shape and strength, as already observed, to the attitude of our men and women towards beasts and birds, wild as well as domestic, and towards the smallest insects. It explains the large number of vegetarians by birth among our people and the high status that abstinence from meat-diet undoubtedly enjoys in our society. At some stage or another in almost every one's life, a fit of sanyas seizes the mind even of our intellectuals, professionals and businessmen. Wandering beggars are honoured in spite of their obviously unsatisfactory ways of life. The poor man commands not only respect but a religious status by reason of his poverty. Sacrifice and austerity extort a following in our country far more than would be considered rational in other countries. Politics as every one knows has taken a great deal from this circumstance. All this is due to the impact of our religion and our philosophy. On the whole our culture and our sense of values till lean towards spirituality. May this leaning be a permanent feature of our national culture and may our way of life grow into being one with Dharma, which alone can firmly support and sustain national life.

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