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The Legacy of Sanskrit
By Dr. S. Radhakrishnan
(source: Our Heritage. Orient Paperbacks 1973 pg 30-38)

A Recent survey of old archaeological relics in China and Central Asia has revealed that Sanskrit has been dominant in those regions for centuries. Some Sanskrit scriptures are reported to have been found on the great wall of China. Sanskrit texts are found also on the scrolls and scarves exchanged between the emperors of China and the dignitaries of other parts of Central Asia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. 

Some European and American Universities have chairs for Sanskrit studies. There is a growing interest in Indian thought in many parts of the world, in philosophy and religion; in psychology and psychoanalysis. 

We have inherited a legacy, great and precious, but it is fatal to rest in the consciousness of having inherited something unique. The inheritance should be invested in new undertakings; we have to start new achievements. We must be ever engaged in the pursuit of truth. In the different spheres of the Sanskrit language, its literature, philosophy, religion, music, metaphysics, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and surgery, work is being done.

It cannot be said that the culture enshrined in the Sanskrit language is irrelevant to the modern conditions. The higher aspects of Vedic thought, and Buddha, Mahavira, and Ashoka also taught us to build a classless society where men and women, whatever be their status, are treated alike. The saints of different regions, Valluvar (Tamil), Vemana (Telugu), Basava (Kannada), Kabir-panthis, Sikhs, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Gandhi in recent times, take us back to the essential dignity of man emphasized in the mahavakyas of the Vedas and insist on social equality and respect for human dignity. An adaptive culture is incompatible with static social structures. We have suffered in the past by our adherence to outmoded forms and habits. Social changes are necessary if we are to build a unified and progressive India.

The problem facing the world today is that of the conflict or co-operation among the different cultures. We had had a long tradition of peaceful co-operation among the different cultures. From the beginning of our history new groups have become steadily Indianised, the Sakas, The Kusanas, and the Pallavas. The arts and the crafts they brought with them have been respectfully accepted. Varahamihira in his Brhat-samhita says, " The yavanas (Greek) are verily mlecchas but this science is well established among them. Therefore they too deserve our respect even as our own sages."

" mleccha hi yavanas tesu samyak sastram idam sthitam rsivat tepi pujyah syuh kim punar daivavid dvijah" 

Of the five schools of astronomy, two are known as Romaka (after Rome ) and Paulisa (after Paul of Alexandria, A.D. 378). We had no sense of cultural isolationism or intellectual bigotry which disdains to accept knowledge from different regions of the world. 

On the account of these characteristics, even religion has been perpetually adapting itself to the new challenges. The Vedic samhitas, the ceremonialism of the Brahmanas and the idealism of the Upanishads could not become popular with the masses. Different tendencies developed. Systems of thought, called heterodox because they did not accept the authority of the Vedas, grew up, like Jainism and Buddhism. In the Upanishads we find traces of free thinking which appealed to the masses. The conservative tendencies grew up on the basis of Vedic sutras and vedangas. There were tendencies which tried to reconcile the anti-Vedism of the heterodox systems and the revivalism of the conservative schools. The people on general followed their tribal creed. Their gods and goddesses were different from those of the Vedic pantheon. These popular beliefs were encouraged by the followers of the Vedas. The Vrsnis, the Satvatas, the Abhiras and the Yadavas worshipped Krsna who was the temporal head and spiritual preceptor of these tribes. Sometimes a conflict between the Vedic and the non-Vedic prevailed. The struggle between Indra and Krsna is symbolic of it.

Krsna's teachings are epitomized in the Bhagavadgita. There is no stress on the phenomenality of the world or the identification of the individual soul with the Supreme. Bhakti to Krsna is insisted on. The Gita asks us to work for lokasamgraha, world solidarity or progress. An active way of life, karma-yoga adopts renunciation in action and not of action. The Gita religion is one in which all people could participate. Despite geographical, climatic, racial, religious, and linguistic diversities, India possesses a fundamental cultural unity.

We talk about modernity. The people are trying to get rid of many of our old standards and ask for modern interpretation. I am also a modernist, but I believe that modernism consists in preserving whatever is valuable in our ancient heritage and discarding whatever is not of value. There are so many things which have come down to us and which do not constitute the glory of our culture or our country. There are others which are vital factors and which sustain our country. The noted French writer Andre Malraux, said, " The problem of this century is the religious problem and the discovery of Hindu thought will have a great deal to do with the solving of that particular problem."

 We think we are democratic but the basis of democracy is sanctity of the individual, the divine possibilities which he has. The four mahavakyas, or great sayings, of the four Vedas have been given by Sankaracharya to the four established Mutts at Dwaraka, Puri, Badrinath and Sringeri. The basis of democracy has come down to us from over five thousand years. The Vedas may have been written in 5,000 B.C. but were composed earlier. Anyway, what is called the democratic trend need not be regarded as something which we had to acquire from Western nations. These trends have been there.

The Mahabharata tells us:

guhyam brahma tad idam vo bravimi
na manusat sresthataram hi kincit.

There is nothing higher than man in this world. God transcendent is beyond us. God immanent is in man. Every human being must be regarded as sustaining the possibility of rising to the divine state.

Buddhism has its origin in the Upanishads. Kumarilabhatta says: vijnanavada nairatmavadanam api upanisad prabhavatvam. Every vijnanavada originated from the Upanishad. It is one resevoir from which, in different directions, things flow, and we have to understand the basis of unity which prevails. It is this reconciliation of all faiths that challenges the modern world. These different faiths are not to be regarded as opposites or contradictories. They are distinct or complementaries. They will enrich the human heritage, if we are able to get them together. 

What is secularism - mistakenly called secularism - is really respect for all faiths; it is not giving up of faiths. Everyone should respect whatever is held sacred by any other individual. It is essential that we should not lose our moorings; we should not be absorbed or fascinated by the new-fangled ideas. What is happening today is that even the students do not have a perception of the values of our country. If you get them back to these things and make them understand that the fundamentals of our religion are most scientific, most democratic, most harmonious and most significant, so far as the historic process is concerned, we will be doing a valuable service.




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