Civilization Ancient and Modern
Difference between old and new Civilization-In his book Hindi Swaraj written while he was yet in his twenties, Mahatma Gandhi says that civilizations are not Eastern or Western, but old and new, ancient and modern..
. But were all ancient civilizations alike and are all modern civilizations similarly alike? The answer can be both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Professor Toynbee, a world authority on history, has tried to puzzle out the problem of the survival of the Chinese and Indian civilizations when other famous civilizations like the Egyptian, the Iranian, the Greek or the civilization of Babylon and Assyria died long ago. Benjamin Kidd, in his thoughtful and thoughtprovoking book, Social Evolution, significantly suggests that Greek and Roman civilizations and several other ancient civilizations, while they had many brilliant and impressive qualities, could not survive because their ethical motive power lacked depth and dimension. Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru had acknowledged the impressive greatness of Indian civilization of culture but, at the same time, had pointed out the weakness of Hindu polity.
.. This weakness was the omission of a sense of human equality in the Hindu social structure.
What is the quality, then, or the characteristic, which we can call modem in modern civilization? The birth and growth of science and technology and the increasing use of power-driven machinery is the most obvious answer. To this may be added the establishment of democracy which is resulting in the increasing importance and the value of the individual.
Edward Carpenter, in the concluding chapters of his world famous book, Civilization: Its Cause and Cure, raises the question why old civilizations die and whether we should fear a similar death for modern civilization. His answer is no. His argument is that the death of ancient civilizations was due to the fact that they were local and limited in their domain, while modern civilization is rapidly becoming a global civilization.
Every civilization has behind it a mental world. We have to rediscover the mind of ancient India, which gave us the Indian civilization. If we try to guess at this secret dimension of Indian civilization we shall discover that the Indian mind had a world awareness and a world feeling and a secret language, which has enabled India to survive through its trials and tribulations. One vital and life-infusing quality of this awareness and feeling was a non-,creedal spiritual, refined and cultured materialism with a universal human appeal.
This goes to explain that vitality of Indian civilization which is embedded in the blood and bone and woven into the texture of every Indian, the inalienable sense of oneness with nature, with the animal kingdom and with all human beings, which is the richest gift of the Indian civilization and culture. This also explains the appeal of home life, domesticrelations, social relations, human relations, the poetry of childhood, the goddesshood of womanhood and the god-like concept of manhood, which characterise the best Hindu thought. The doctrine of truth and Ahimsq are not based on muddled sentiments but on an objectivity beyond objectivity.
But a civilization, while it ought to have a soul and while it has to do everything to keep alive that soul in all its freshness, has to adjust and renovate its external social structure in the context of world history.
One of the opening passages in Manu Smriti Unmistakably declares that the laws of its code must be changed from time to time reflecting changes in life and society. This adaptability has been one of the secrets of the survival of the Hindu civilization which today is an amalgam of civilizations, Aryan, Dravidian, Muslim, and European. To pick up again the thread of our reflections-the thought background of Hindu civilization reached its highest point in the Upanishadic age. In one of his most illuminating and revealing papers, Tagore calls the message of this age as the message of the forest. The Upanishads are also rightly called the ‘Aranyakas’, Which means ‘the forests’; This message lost or nearly lost its dynamism for Indians long centuries ago.
After the Upanishadie Age the movement of Indian history was in reverse gear. It was really not
‘ progression but retrogression. We began to lapse back
into a mindless and thoughtless primitivism. India lost the secret of healthy growth and healthy evolution. India began ‘to shrink and wither away though it had still immense reserves of strength and richness. Marx, writing in 1854, called the Britishers in India ‘unconscious tools of history’. In other words, the Britishers, all unknown to themselves, challenged India to become true India, to realize the promise, the possibilities and the’ potentiaElities of the Upanishadic thought.
But the history of the West has itself fallen short of its own promises. Modern European civilization has mischanged its healthy dynamism for an unhealthy restlessness, born of the pseudoenergism of the blind forces of capitalism, colonialism and imperialism. Unplanned expansion and overloaded industrialism have resulted in making the machine, the master of man, who has become a slave of the machine instead of being its master and controller. The roles have been reversed, with the result that modern Western civilization has begun to suffer from high blood pressure, A century ago Ruskin had sounded his warning against such a state of affairs.
. Tolstoy and Gandhi spoke in the same vein. Modem civilization was born out of the womb of ancient civilization, but it seems to have failed itself because it did not control and harness its own chain reactions which have turned modern civilization into a Frankenstein. Our ancient civilization sorely needs the rejuvenating disciplines of the mind create by modern civilization but it also needs, while it beeomes modern-minded, to recapture its ancient-souled vision of life.
Indian thought and Indian civilization emphasize not so much the particularism of things, as their universalism. Diversity is only a mode of unity. Modern civilization today faces the menace of its own modernity. Let the West give us the mind and the discipline of the modern civilization and let India in turn give to the West the ancient-souled vision and wisdom of its thought. This two-ways traffic between ancient and modern civilizations alone can restore the equipoise, the balance and the equilibrium of the world, which is being shaken to its roots by the blind forces of soulless modernity.