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English fortnightly, devoted to life, literature and culture.

Vol: 50  No: 01


15 August 2003

What is Culture and What is Not

Swami Sivananda

Culture is tilling, cultivating, refining, ‘the working of the ground in order to raise crops’, the condition consequent upon the development and strengthening of inherent powers and capacities.

-Swami Sivananda

Culture is tilling, cultivating, refining, ‘the working of the ground in order to raise crops’, the condition consequent upon the development and strengthening of inherent powers and capacities - physical, mental, moral or spiritual, the transformation of nature into a methodical structure of proportion and completeness, conducive to and responsible for the peace and happiness, not only of an individual, but of mankind as a whole.
Culture refers to whatever is the best and the highest that is capable of being known. It is said that Indian culture is one of the most advanced, an ideal and a pattern to be emulated. What are the characteristics of this culture?
Every country in the world thinks in terms of power and pelf, while we, in India, are taught to adhere to the principles of right morality, and evaluate life in the light of the reality of a universal Spirit existing behind all things.
Unselfishness and self-abnegation are placed first; and then the activities of life follow. The system of education, the concept of values, the rules of society, the aim of politics, the laws of the country, are all emanations from this comprehensive idea of the purpose of existence, which manifests itself in the endeavours for Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha-a technique of living an integrated life in every sphere of human activity.
The essence of true culture is based on a spiritual sense of values and a spiritual outlook of life. The assertion of the divinity of man is his heart, and it rests on inner refinement, on the nurture and unfoldment of the spiritual spark in man.
Right aspiration is the longing for Atma-Swarajya or freedom in the universality of the Self, attainable through the conquest of the internal and the external nature. Self-realisation becomes the goal.

The gospel of life, then, is a gospel of non-attachment, of the immortality of the soul, of the ultimate liberation of the soul in the Cosmic. This is the teaching of the all-inclusive inwardness of existence. The indispensability of non-attachment becomes obvious from the concept of the oneness of life, of the unity of the universe.
If truth is one, attachment to outward forms is another name for clinging to falsehood, and a breach of truth, the inevitable result of which is misery. Culture tends to freedom, and freedom is only in impersonal life. Unselfishness and inward peace, or, at least, an effort to achieve this end, should mark the distinctive feature of culture, if it should last, and have any permanent significance. Knowledge which characterises such culture is not mere learning but faith and insight with an ethical background.
This is not possible without freedom of the mind from prejudice and from craving for things that perish.
Culture in India is synonymous with the blossoming of the faculty of the spiritual consciousness in different degrees, and by stages.
Higher than the animal man is the normal man. Higher than the normal man is the good man. Higher still is the saintly man. But above all is the divine man or God-man.
To act without attachment, to perform without reluctance one’s duties according to the station in which one is placed in society by one’s capacity and aptitude, and to be inwardly unified with the Divine Being, even while living in the world, is what constitutes the way to peace. The Sthitaprajna of the Bhagavad Gita is the Indian ideal of the highest type of culture.
Culture includes processes as bodily training, the discipline of the psychological faculties, the development of the consciousness of right and wrong, and good

Bhavan's Journal

15 August 2003

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