“Elsewhere-Afterwards” versus “Here-and-Now”
Note: This is the final part of this article, click here to read the first part.
Liberalism, whether of the conservative technological type or of the progressive ideological type, has a blind belief in “The Future”. It believes that things are always getting “Better” and that one day we will solve our problems and then “Everything’s gonna be alright”. These are religious beliefs, they do not stand up to scrutiny and there is absolutely no evidence that we will solve our problems and that “Everything’s gonna be alright”. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that our tools have grown more sophisticated resulting in a material surplus (most probably unsustainable). This has been defined as Progress and irrationally linked with the idea of Well-being in order to give it a positive spin by people who make money selling this idea.
Any objective observer of modern human societies will see that the whole thing is like a water balloon, you press here and it bulges there, you press there, it bulges here. You control acute diseases, you’ve got chronic diseases. You cure yourself with antibiotics, you end up killing your gut bacteria. You increase yield with fertilizer, you lay waste to the soil. You invent the automobile, you create air pollution. You fix air pollution, you have a toxic battery problem. We’re never going to get it under control, ever. But if you start by defining the aim of human life as “Progress” then obviously Progress is a good thing and we inhabit a self-fulfilling destiny. But, if you instead, define the aim of the human life as anything real, such as Happiness or Harmony, then the whole edifice of Progress as a means to that end collapses.
Hindu thought does not endorse this Elsewhere- Afterwards view of life, what I call Heaven-Centricism. The entire epistemological focus of our deep philosophies is the Here-and-Now. Enlightenment, Nirvana, Moksha, Samadhi, is in the Here and Now. It already exists, we are told by our sages that we simply have to step out of our ignorance and recognize it. To enquire about the Self, to meditate upon the Breath, to Act without thought of future reward, to be in the throes of Bhakti or a Dharam Yuddh, are all means to access the Present. You could imagine a potter’s wheel turning. The centre is stationary and still, it is Presence itself, BUT it is also the axle, the active principle, the animating force around which the clay of Hindu society revolves. Our cultures are organized around that central point, looking towards it, focused on it, even as we move in circles around it taking on beautiful forms.
The Line and The Circle
For most of human history, we’ve lived within a circular conception of time- The Earth goes around, the seasons come around, birth and death follow each other as do joy and sorrow. The Christian idea of a linear progression of time leading to an imaginary Heaven is relatively recent, but today, its latest variant called Historical Materialism, as delineated by Marx and Engels has permeated most of our thinking. We have bought into the idea of development so feverishly; it is as if we are all aspiring for a Christian Heaven. This notion of an imaginary place of perfection was neatly translated from Christianity into the Liberal notion of Progress with all of its epistemological implications. The fact that the end goal of Progress, just like Heaven before it, is an imaginary construct that does not seem to bother too many of us. In fact, so brainwashed by this notion was the white man in colonial times, that he considered it his religious duty to bring this good news to every corner of the planet. Following which, unfortunately, today, most of us suffer from his mental disease in varying degrees.
The difference between living in circular time and living in linear time is the difference between a circle and a straight line. It’s as simple as that!
1. A Circle is limited (economy), a straight Line is unlimited (exploitation).
2. A Circle is connected (relationships, culture), a straight Line is unconnected (loneliness, law enforcement).
3. A Circle is stable (marriage), a straight Line is in constant motion (divorce).
4. A Circle may expand concentrically but retains its relationship with its centre (tradition), a straight Line expands into the unknown, there’s no looking back (revolution).
The thing about linear time is that it imposes its value system upon us. Yes, even conceptions of time have value systems hidden deep in their very structure. Linearity has been attacking Circularity since the crucifixion of Jesus. Recent attempts in Bharat to take down the tradition of Shri Jagganath Rath Yatra and break through the tradition of Swami Ayyappa in Sabarimala are clear examples of vested interest groups using straight lines to puncture existing circularities. You can even imagine it clearly if you close your eyes and see a circle going round and round since forever and the attempt to push a straight line into the circle to stop it from rotating.
The Four Hidden Values of Linear Time
Every single novel, outlandish, phenomenon that you observe in Hindu society today can be explained by viewing it through the lens of one or more of these Four Values of Linear Time.
1. Value #1: Change and Novelty
A line is always heading somewhere else, pointing “forward”.
A line always leads somewhere New.
Once we absorb this value –
We look with disdain at the past, our parents, and tradition.
We salivate at the sight of a new iPhone.
We prefer Christ to Krishna simply because he is new and like the English language, he represents progress, and progress, we have been told, is good. The newly “lineating” rural Indian cannot tell the difference between new clothing patterns, new music choices, new sexual mores, new places and new gods. Newness is all. Newness smells of Progress.
We obsess about the idea of growth – getting ahead at the family and national level.
We start to experience dis-satisfaction, restlessness, impatience.
Contentment, once the highest good, is now sneered upon. We look for new places, new jobs, new relationships, only the latest will do. We have to stay on top of things, to be “in the know” otherwise we’re evicted from the “in crowd”. We fear our irrelevance most of all. The most poignant aspect of this way of being is that as the world grows younger and newer at a faster and faster rate, each of us is inevitably growing older with each passing day…self-hate sets in.
Plastic surgery becomes normal.
2. Value #2: Individualism
In a circle we stand shoulder to shoulder, holding hands, facing a common centre.
A line breaks that formation and puts us one behind the other facing an undefined horizon.
Each of us stands alone.
The directionality of the line suggests to us that we should be focused on getting ahead further along the line before our compatriots do and maintaining our lead.
Once we absorb this value –
We look with disdain upon groups/tribes/culture.
We start to define ourselves by the things we do, the things we own, the things we think, the things we feel.
Group identities have traditions to help communally hold that identity, externalize it, celebrate it. Individual identities by definition cannot have any traditions which leads us to the modern idea of having to “express ourselves”. This takes on all kinds of forms – we indulge our emotions and our thoughts (both of which our seers have told us are fickle and unreal). Artists and ordinary individualists search for extreme experiences to better define themselves as separate from others. Art especially has suffered from this obsession with the self and the need for uniqueness, leading to the glorification of everything disruptive, subversive, extreme, bizarre. It is only a small step from there to the glorification of violence, porn and death by sociopaths and psychopaths. Every single vision of the future that has come out of the diseased western mind has been apocalyptic. It’s as if they know they are sick but an inner urge urges them onwards in the glorification of that sickness. The recently released “Joker” is the latest in a long line of such “Art”.
Circles are wholesome and human. Art made by circular humans is beautiful, celebratory, grateful, inspirational. We can sense this impulse in our classical music and in our temple architecture, our Sanskrit plays and our Itihaasa.
Lines are not meant for humans. Linear humans will ultimately become non-human, moulded against their better senses by the inner form of the line itself.
A genetically modified, android future becomes normal.
3. Value #3: Destination-ality
Linear time insists that we are going somewhere.
It points to a destination, the promised land. It will not let us be still.
Once we absorb this value –
We look with disdain at people who are behind us in the race to the imaginary destination. People who wear clothes that are out of fashion are insulted. People who have old fashioned names are laughed at. People from villages are ganwaar as if it was a bad thing. For millennia a person from Manipur was a person from Manipur and a person from Mumbai was a person from Mumbai, they had different customs, lives, wants. Today linear thinking forces us to think of Manipur as a wannabe Mumbai and by the same token we look at Mumbai as a wannabe New York. Everyone and every place are supposed to be getting somewhere. India has to become a first-world country. It’s a race to the top. But to the top of what?
Stillness, that most respected value, is today an unknown quality. Movement is everything, on TV, on Social Media, 24hr news cycles. A sense of urgency is in the air, usually accompanied by a sense of impending doom…these poor people, these traditional people, these regressive forces may not allow us to get to our destination, after all, they will snatch from us our promised land!
4. Value #4: Speed
Linear time, by pointing to a destination also carries the underlying implication that the sooner we get to the destination, the better it is.
We can get ahead, we can be first, we can win!
Once we absorb this value –
We look with disdain at everything that slows us down, that cuts our efficiency… that is inconvenient. Parents, relationships, marriages, children, tradition, all of that stuff has to be discarded. They “cramp our style”, put constraints and set limits on how far ahead we can get. The more responsibility we take on, the slower we get and the more likely we are to lose the race to the promised land. A vast number of youths are shunning responsibility, floating around, spending their father’s money, many hoping to “make it big” without any hard work, their fantasies amplified and preyed upon by TV shows.
Western Modernity is here to stay. The technologies that drive Individuation are ubiquitous and the break-up of our old communal selves is inevitable. The break-down of the old circular structures is guaranteed. At this cusp of history, as Bharatiya people, what do we do?
The problem today is that almost all of us, even those of us who swear by Dharma are actually revolutionaries. We’re all some form of Christian, we believe in progress, development, in betterment, all of that meaningless stuff. I’m not saying these are bad, I’m just saying that these ideals will not get our society to a wholesome place. We can implement all of these without self-destruction only if we have a higher, more powerful circular cultural value that is guiding us. In the absence of that Dharmic force, we are just as lost as the westerners, thrashing about in the pond of life.
There has been such a large scale movement of Bharatiya people away from our traditional ways of viewing life because our education is western-progressive, it teaches us that Bhoo-Devi herself is dead and that there is a destination elsewhere to be reached. This false view of the world leads to the building of expectations in young minds. These minds are revolutionized, they want more, they want better, and that becomes an end unto itself. This is deeply problematic. Once you are revolutionized in your thinking, automatically, Islam and Christianity become appealing to you because they are all cut from the same cloth. “Hinduism” on the other hand is seen as belonging to the past and a shroud of backwardness is cast over it. So vast conversions happen and even among the people who don’t convert to these religions, there is a tacit conversion to American-style Progressivism and Globalism accompanied by a deep shame associated with their Hinduness. And of course, there are the overt revolutionaries who discard Hindusim and take on the religion of Che and Mao. The problem is deep, even among those of us who speak for Dharma, our minds are pre-programmed to think in revolutionary terms and we are essentially living a type of schizophrenia.
If we want a solution to this existential problem that faces all indigenous peoples, either we go back to being entirely traditional and risk cutting ourselves off from the engines of social life and power or we think of some way to stand astride two disparate worlds. We may yet be capable of that, we’re not infinitely inventive and flexible for nothing. Recognizing the problem with clarity is the first step.
It is Not for Nothing That We Stand for Something
How to be essentially Dharmic in a revolutionary world?
How to retain Circularity in a Linear world?
At the personal level, what rules do we set ourselves, what limits, what discipline that will remind us every day that even though we walk the roads that everyone else walks, we do so knowing, all the time, that those roads are unreal and it’s only our (collective) practice that is true? What vows do we take by ourselves, with friends and with family to honour circular living and the gifts our ancestors have left for us? It’s not for nothing that we stand for something!
At the national level, what systemic structures will help encourage circularity? While most of governmental activity is focused on linearity for the sake of building up our economic and military strength, we must, like Israel, subsidize circular indigenous practices so that we all have the opportunity and the facility to step out of the Line and into the Circle at any time we want. One of the first steps in this direction will be the freeing of Hindu temples from the Linear State so they are free to function as per their Circular traditions. Our temples will then become power centres of Circularity influencing education, culture, art and social service. This is the first step.
The first step is just one step away. But the magic of this first step is that once it’s taken, the second step is just one step away.
The Medium is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan, 1967 (On Media and Culture)
Technopoly, Neil Postman, 1992 (On Technology)
Capital Vol 1, Karl Marx, 1867 (On Work and Wealth)
The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry, 2003 (Essays on Conservatism)
The Darkening Age, Catherine Nixey,2017 (On Christianity and the Fall of Pagan Rome)
The Life Divine, Shri Aurobindo, 1939 (On Dharmic Human Evolution)
Mahabharata, Rishi Ved Vyasa, Antiquity (On Dharma)
Who am I, Ramana Maharshi, 1923 (On Self)
Featured Image: Udti Khabar
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.